JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – After surviving a 17-for-4 playoff early Wednesday, Nathan Smith joked that first-round opponent Lee McCoy was probably “licking his chops that he gets the old guy” in the Round of 64 at the U.S. Amateur.
Afterward, McCoy was licking his wounds.
During a thrilling tussle between a 20-year-old Georgia standout and a 36-year-old financial adviser, it was Smith, the old guy, who prevailed in 19 holes at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“The media center at the U.S. Am,” Smith said, walking into the clubhouse. “I didn’t think this existed.”
It’s been five years since Smith reached match play, nearly a decade (2005) since he won a match.
Smith said all the right things afterward – that he was just excited to be here, that he had nothing to lose, that McCoy has a tremendous future (which he does). But don’t let the aw-shucks demeanor fool you.
“I saw the (bracket) and saw a four-time Mid-Am winner and a guy that’s played in the Masters four times,” McCoy said, “and I was like, 'I get to play the grizzled veteran in the first round. Fantastic.'
“I don’t think he had his best stuff today, and neither did I. He just scored unbelievably well, like a veteran would.”
Both medalists - McCoy and Arkansas junior Taylor Moore - are gone after the first day. So are several of the Amateur’s biggest names, including Western Amateur winner Beau Hossler, Walker Cupper Jordan Niebrugge, and former No. 1-ranked junior Scottie Scheffler.
“It just goes to show you that it’s two different golf tournaments,” said McCoy, who shot 8-under 135 over two days here, then (including the usual concessions) shot 74 Wednesday and fell in overtime.
Meanwhile, Moore lost, 3 and 2, to little-known Jesse Heinly, the 940th-ranked amateur in the world who recently graduated from tiny Concordia University in Portland and had spent his last few months working, playing and seeing what’s next in life.
“I love playing match play,” he said, “just because it wipes out the score; just because it’s 1-on-1.”
Smith and McCoy’s 1-on-1 battle was the best of the day.
One down with two to play, Smith smoothed a 6-iron to 6 feet on the daunting, over-water, par-3 17th, then scrambled for par on the last after an errant tee shot.
On the 19th hole, McCoy almost instantly regretted his club choice on the 454-yard first. Under any other circumstance, he can’t hit a 3-wood 310 yards – “I’m not a big guy,” he reminded us – but sure enough, with the adrenaline flowing, he found the right fairway bunker.
“I had a feeling I was going to,” he said. “I couldn’t make myself pull 5-wood.”
Both players missed the green with their approach shots. McCoy had the easier third shot, but his chip from short of the green came up 10 feet shy and he missed the putt. Smith blasted out to 3 feet for an easy par.
“You can’t commend him enough for making those two numbers that he did there,” McCoy said. “So I don’t feel like I beat myself. I got beat, and that’s a better feeling than the other way.”
Smith will move on to play Brandon McIver in the Round of 32. If he wins that match against the Oregon junior and 2014 U.S. Open participant, Smith will reach the third round for the first time since 2000.
“It just seems like the U.S. Amateur every year, no matter my age, just keeps getting better and better,” he said. “The fields are so deep. There’s just so many guys, and they’re all so good.”
None more impressive Wednesday than the old guy.