Cooper Smith (Roxene Riles/New Year's Invitational Photo)
After shooting 10-under through 27 holes, Cooper Smith
, a redshirt junior at South Florida, won the 2024 New Year's Invitational at St. Petersburg Country Club in Saint Petersburg, Fla., by eight shots over Evan Myers
Smith shot rounds of 69-67-65 to win the Invitational. Due to anticipated weather on Friday night, the golfers played the second round and nine holes of the third round on Friday, so they only had nine holes left on Saturday.
Smith shot 10-under through the 27 holes on Friday and pulled away from the field for good.
"I really didn't have my best stuff off the tee, which is usually a strength of mine," Smith said. "So I was just getting it into play and hitting really nice wedge shots. My putter was fantastic. That was the best I have ever putted in a tournament, so that allowed me to separate myself a bit."
Smith added, "I made some big ups and downs when I needed to and kept the momentum going. Whenever you have a good putter, it makes your swing feel better."
Smith started on Hole No. 1 in the second round in the shotgun start, and made five birdies on his last nine holes on the day.
"I wanted to keep going because I was on a heater," Smith said jokingly.
Even though he played with a large lead, Smith did not change anything about his mindset or approach to the final nine holes.
"I just tried not to think too much about golf," Smith said. "This whole week, I was patient and tried not to get ahead of myself. I was playing shot to shot, and it worked out."
Smith added, "I wasn't trying to change anything. Everything I was doing was working. I got a little conservative but didn't want to pull back. My mindset the whole time was to keep doing what I was doing because it had been working, and I didn't want to change what was working."
Evan Myers finished in solo second place at 7-under, and Laurenz Kubin finished in solo third place at 6-under.
Mid-Amateur champion Devin Hernandez, Patton Samuels, and Nicholas Hofman finished T4 at 4-under.
2023 champion C.J. Easley finished T43 at 11-over with rounds of 76-73-78.
Devin Hernandez shot rounds of 74-69-69 to finish 4-under and win the Mid-Amateur Division by five shots over Michael Harrington and Jay Halverson.
Hernandez was one down coming into the final nine holes on Saturday, but three birdies in his first five holes helped propel him to the win.
"In the practice round, I decided to play my normal shot instead of doing what the hole called for, and I just hit a draw every shot," Hernandez said. "I have played in this tournament more than a lot of people have, so I know the golf course, so I just wanted to get as comfortable as I could."
Hernandez struggled a bit in the first round, shooting 2-over 74, but back-to-back rounds under 70 helped him climb to the top of the leaderboard.
"I figured if I could get it going yesterday, if I could get it going in the right direction, I got to keep playing, so I wanted to take advantage," Hernandez said about Firday's 27 holes.
Hernandez added, "It kind of helped me because I was trying to get a number on the board and I wasn't playing attention to what hole we were finishing on."
And he knew he had a chance in the final nine holes by starting on hole No. 14 with the shotgun start.
"I knew I had three par-5' and two par-3's so I just wanted to take care of the par-5's and I birdied one of the par-3's," Hernandez said.
This win was a family affair for the St. Petersburg resident, as his eight month year old daughter and wife were in attendance and saw him birdie his first hole.
"That was pretty cool for her to be there and see that," Hernandez said.
Harrington and Halverson finished T2 at 1-over and 2023 Mid-Amateur champion Troy Vannucci finished in solo fourth place at 4-over. Leighton Peavler finished in solo fifth place at 7-over.
Senior Championship Division
Mike Barkley went wire-to-wire to win the Senior Division by five shots over Miles McConnell. Barkley finished at 5-under, while McConnell finished at even-par.
Barkley shot rounds of 72-71-68 to secure the win.
"I really played well all three days," Barkley said. "My putting was the key to me doing so well. I really putted well my last two rounds and made a lot of birdies. I kept the ball in play. I tend to drive it pretty straight."
Barkley added, "I don't normally play 27 holes but the weather wasn't super warm so I didn't get tired like I thought I might. I started hitting some putts and I had a lot of opportunities."
However, with a four-shot lead with nine holes remaining, Barkley knew he could not afford an error with a golfer like McConnell behind him.
"I knew (McConnell) could make up four shots in nine holes if I stumbled at all, so I wanted to get off to a good start," Barkley said.
Two birdies by Barkley on the first two holes was enough to close the door on the field.
"That really settled me in," Barkley said about his start to the round.
Michael Kelley finished in solo third place at 5-over.
History of the New Year's Invitational
The New Year's Invitational has been held every year since 1927. It is the oldest continuously-running invitational tournament in the Southeast and one of the oldest in the country. Originally it was one of a number of tournaments held in the winter months at clubs around the area. The other events, in fact several of the other clubs, are long departed.
The tournament was a match play event from its inception until 1956. The first winner was Clearwater resident A.T. Cooper. The 1928 winner, Johnny Revolta, was a combination course ranger - locker room attendant at Lakewood Country Club at the time he won. Later, Revolta became a very successful professional, winning the PGA Championship in 1935 and establishing quite a reputation as as short game instructor. In 1938 he celebrated his return to St. Petersburg and Lakewood with a win at the St. Pete Open, a regular stop on the fledgling PGA tour.
Bob Goalby was the first winner after the change to stroke play. He went on to a lengthy PGA career which included a 1968 Masters green jacket. Between 1972 and 1991, Buddy Alexander, son of our longtime pro Skip Alexander, won 6 titles, the most wins for any player since the World War II era.
During the past two decades the championship has been dominated by collegiate players including winner Ryuji Imada in 1996, Jeff Klauk in 2000 (with a tournament record 21- under par 267), J.B. Holmes in 2003, Brandt Snedeker in 2004 and Jeff Overton in 2005. This year's field shows considerable promise with entrants from around the U.S. as well as Canada, Germany, Finland, the UK, Colombia, Japan, and China. 2008 winner, Bryce Ledford, will not be back as he is pursuing a professional career.