Nathan Smith wins Spring Stroke Play for the ninth time

Posted May 17, 2017 - 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

Nathan Smith with Terry Teasdale & Matt Rusinko

BEALLSVILLE – It turns out the Masters isn’t the only annual rite of spring.

Pittsburgh’s Nathan Smith won the West Penn Golf Association’s Spring Stroke Play Championship at Nemacolin Country Club Tuesday.

The two-shot victory over three players tied for second was his third straight in the event, his fifth in the last six years and his ninth overall. This championship has now been played 24 times and Smith has won a third of those.

Sean Knapp has won it three times (1998, 2000 and 2001) and Rick Stimmel (1996 and 2014) are the only other multiple winners.

Smith couldn’t come up with an explanation for yet another win after he signed his scorecard, which showed him posting rounds of 69-68 for a three-under par total.

“I really don’t have an answer (for his domination),” he said, shaking his head. “It’s early in the year, I feel good, maybe that has something to do with it. We play 36 in one day and you have to get yourself ready to do that, I don’t know, it’s just hard to believe.”

Smith was two shots out of the lead after the morning round after McMurray’s Chuck Nettles posted an opening-round 67. David Brown of Ligonier shot 68. Brady Pevarnik of Latrobe and Darin Kowalski of Bethel Park also posted 69s.

In the afternoon, things got a little tougher with increased traffic on the greens and a breeze that freshened as the round progressed. Smith was two-under in the second 18, Erik Bertrand, Jason Li and Mark Goetz shot one-under, making only four players to break par in the afternoon.

Nettles hung with Smith through nine holes of the second round, but got off to a tough start when he made a bogey on the second hole and a double bogey on the third to fall back to even.

Birdies on the fifth and sixth brought him back, but was never able to catch Smith again.

“You look at the scores and they were pretty good today” Smith, who had seven birdies and four bogeys on the day, said. “And there were a lot of good guys near the top of the board. It really is unbelievable.”

Smith’s season has gotten off to a good start, with a 15th-place finish in the Azalea Invitational and an 18th in the Terra Cotta, both premier amateur events in Florida.

He’ll be playing the USGA Four-Ball Championship at Pinehurst in less than a couple weeks and then has a sectional qualifier at Canoe Brook, N.J. in an attempt to get into the U.S. Open.

While the more experienced players were at the top of the leaderboard, there was something interesting happening elsewhere in the top 10.

There’s a rumbling going on in the WPGA and it focuses on the junior players, a group that is flexing its muscle more and more.

On this occasion, four of those youngsters finished in the top 11: Pevarnik, 1-over; Jason Li of Sewickley and Mark Goetz of Greensburg, two-over; Palmer Jackson of Murrysville, three-over.

Pevarnik just missed advancing to U.S. Open sectional qualifying last week, which was tough for him to take. He left Nemacolin not feeling nearly as badly as he did last week, although he was definitely disappointed that he didn’t make a few more birdies.

He made eight birdies in the two rounds, including three straight to close out his front nine in the first round. Goetz was the leader of the young group in that category, putting up 10 birdies.

“It was a great day, really,” Pevarnik said. “This was the first time I got to play with Nathan and he definitely lives up to the hype. It was great to watch how he does things. This was nothing like last week. I’m certainly not satisfied, but I really don’t have anything to be mad about. If I make four more putts, I have the lead.”

None of the four juniors posted a round worse than 74 Tuesday.