Mid-ams key to Walker Cup win
-- Golfweek Photo
-- Golfweek Photo

By Julie Williams, Golfweek

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — In the wake of American victory at the Walker Cup, Todd White had decided to let someone else decide what his place on this team meant for the mid-amateur. As the story goes, White’s selection was helped by the U.S. Golf Association’s newly imposed double-mid-am-mandate. For one night, at least, that part of the storyline should take a backseat.

White, 45, and Nathan Smith, 35, delivered the two points America needed to clinch the match. U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve put them in the middle of Sunday’s singles draw, and they didn’t disappoint.

“I’ve said all along that the golf ball has no earthly idea how old anyone is,” White said after his 4-and-3 victory over Rhys Pugh. “Maybe Nathan and I were carrying the mantle for the mid-amateurs, I’m not sure. That’s for other people to decide.”

As for White’s father Mickey, watching proudly from the sidelines, Todd's week meant meeting a goal set long ago – before a short, trying stint as a professional golfer and before a career as a high school history teacher on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

“We all want to do special things in our lifetime,” Mickey said, “but for a parent to watch their child do something that they worked so hard to try to achieve . . . that’s what it’s all about.”

Mickey told stories of Todd as a boy, finding his niche in golf. White, beaming, squeezed his father's shoulders as he bounced around the group of “10 great friends” who also had made the trek from the Lowcountry.

When Smith closed out his match against Nathan Kimsey minutes later, the 15th green became a Hampton-style mosh pit. Friends and fans rushed the green for their champion, a 35-year-old investment analyst from Pittsburgh.

“I had today,” Smith said, and that could snowball into chances for other mid-amateurs to achieve what he has.

Whether or not you agree with Smith and White’s place on this team, it was still a moment worth taking in. A father and his 45-year-old son embracing at a chance neither could have imagined this late in life. A four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion winning three of his final five holes to bring home the Walker Cup.

Frankly, Smith didn’t think he’d be on this team. But Sunday’s performance shows he can still contribute in the Walker Cup, and that he’s earned a place here regardless of what mandates exist for Walker Cup selection. As long as that’s the case, Smith will keep trying to qualify.

“This time around, it was a lot of fun,” Smith said. “I felt current with the guys, I felt like we got along, I felt like my game was still sharp enough to help out USA. When I feel like I can't contribute, I won’t try to make the team anymore.”

Half of Sunday’s 10 singles matches were still on the course when Smith took the clinching point. Placed in what Smith called the “clean-up spot” on the draw, he knew there was a distinct possibility the matches would come down to this scenario. In three turns on the Walker Cup, Smith won his first full singles point at a crucial moment. After watching from the sidelines as his American team built an 8-4 lead in singles a day earlier, Smith was proud to do more putting than live-score scrolling on Sunday.

“I just wanted to give them something,” Smith must have said, in one way or another, a dozen times Sunday afternoon.

Smith’s clincher should serve as ample distraction from work for the better part of the week.

“What do I do?” Smith said when rushed by reporters post-round. “I don’t even remember.”

Smith’s wife Nicole, beaming from the sidelines, knew this victory “will make him happy for the rest of the year.”

White, meanwhile, will relieve his substitute at Hilton Head Island High School on Tuesday morning, but isn’t quite sure how he’ll tell his high school history students about the week. Some of them “get” what their teacher was doing on Long Island, and others are not familiar enough with the game to understand. But on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of September 11, White’s anecdotes will be light on birdies and bogeys. Instead, he will tell tales of playing golf with former president George W. Bush and visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.

“Believe it or not, I’m looking forward to getting back.”

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ABOUT THE The Walker Cup

The Walker Cup Match is a biennial 10-man amateur team competition between the USA and a team composed of players from Great Britain and Ireland and selected by The R&A. It is played over two days with 18 singles matches and eight foursomes (alternate-shot) matches.

The first United States Walker Cup Team, which in 1922 defeated the GB&I side, 8-4, at the National Golf Links of America, is considered among the best teams ever and included Francis Ouimet, Bob Jones, Charles “Chick” Evans and Jess Sweetser. Many of the game’s greatest players have taken part in Walker Cup competition, including U.S. Open champions Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth for the USA and Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose for Great Britain and Ireland.

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