Nathan Smith wins seventh Spring Stroke Play Championship

By Mike Dudurich, Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM – Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich

JOHNSTOWN – Even when Nathan Smith is not at his very best he’s difficult to beat. His short game is routinely spectacular and that gives him an edge just about every time he tees it up.

But when he gets in a groove with the rest of his game like he has been for the last several weeks, Smith becomes virtually unbeatable. Monday afternoon provided just another example as Smith won the West Penn Golf Association’s Spring Stroke Play at Sunnehanna Country Club in Johnstown.

“I really hit it so good today,” Smith admitted after posting rounds of 67-68-135. “Usually my short game is really good, but today I really hit it well.”

Just how good was he on this warm and muggy day? He missed two greens and an equal number of fairways in 36 holes.

That was good enough for a two-shot victory over Erik Bertrand of Pittsburgh. Darin Kowalski of Bethel Park was three shots back and Andrew Reynolds of Plum finished four back.

The Spring Stroke Play debuted in 1994 and Smith has won it seven times, by far the most victories by one player. The event began as an invitational for WPGA Club champions, winners of Association championships and other players of note were invited. It has evolved into a full field open competition with club champions of WPGA Member Clubs having exempt status to the field.

Like many other courses in Western Pennsylvania, Sunnehanna has struggled with its greens and because they weren’t their usual slick, treacherous putting surfaces, it was suggested that perhaps Smith’s short game advantage might have been negated.

“Absolutely, any time I’m playing I feel like my short game is an advantage for me,” Smith said. “But it wasn’t so much the case today. You really felt like you had to be inside 10-20 feet to make a putt.”

Smith made four birdies and a bogey in his first round and three and one in the second round.

Bertrand made seven birdies in a second-round 67, including three of the last four, but the bogey he made on 17 cost him a chance of getting to within a shot of Smith.

Smith has a good history at Sunnehanna, having won the Sunnehanna Amateur in 2011, the West Penn Amateur in 2008 as well as being medalist for the state match play. He’s also finished top-five in the Sunnehanna Amateur several times.

“I was pretty impressed with how low the scores were overall today,” he said. “It was a real grind out there.”

The field also had to deal with a 45-minute weather delay to make things a bit more difficult.

Of the 145 scores turned in, only nine were in the 80s. By contrast, 13 players posted rounds in the 60s.

But as has been the case for a while now, the spotlight is on the 36-year-old resident of Allison Park.

He is on a hot streak, has probably locked up a spot on this year’s Walker Cup team and has stamped himself as a strong contender for this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur this fall.

“It’s all been very cool, it really has,” Smith said. “I enjoy playing and that’s why I keep doing it. It might sound funny but I learned a lot about my game during the Four-Ball at Olympic. You wouldn’t think you’d have time to figure things out at a USGA event.”

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