Am Tour Nationals bring Vermont father and San Diego son together

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James Smith and his son Jamie have become closer playing in the Golf Channel Am Tour Nationals this week

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- James Smith and his son Jamie have been playing golf together the last three days – 11 miles apart.

If you're wondering how that's possible, all you have to do is put it in perspective. The elder Smith lives in Vermont. Jamie lives in San Diego. They are about 3,000 from one another most of the year, so yeah, 11 miles is together.

The Smiths qualified for the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship, thanks in large part to a second-place finish in the "Duel in the Desert" Am Tour event in Las Vegas as a team.

This week, they're playing in different flights, so while Jamie (in the Sarazen flight, 12-15.9 handicap) teed it up at Talking Stick on Wednesday, James was over at Grayhawk. Ironically, they both had the same tee time, 12:19 p.m., and eventually met up later at Talking Stick Resort for the nightly GC Am Tour reception and a couple of beers watching Thursday Night Football.

James is the better of the two golfers is in the Hogan flight (handicap 8-11.9). He actually qualified for the Am Tour Senior National Championship, which will be played next week here, but he wanted to play at the same time as his son, so he opted for the Open division this week. While they may not be on the same course together during competition, they're using this week to get closer.

"It's been absolutely amazing," Jamie said. "You look at these father-son opportunities – and I have a son - and you just cherish these moments. It just means the world to me to spend time with him. It's been kind of a boys' trip - the wives and kids are at home - and we just have a really good time."

James, who does come out to San Diego each year for a few weeks with his wife to visit his Jamie's family, agreed that sharing their experiences at the Golf Channel Am Tour Nationals is special.

"Even though we're not playing in the same flight, we're together," James said. "We're sharing social time, sharing the stories, sharing dinner, breakfast. I think that's important to both of us. "

Early on this week, Jamie had every reason to be proud of his dad. Neither are in contention to win their flights really, but on Monday, James shot 74 at Grayhawk, just one year over his age. All week, that round has stood up as the lowest in his flight, and James was honored at Monday night's reception with a prize and award.

But as proud as they are of each other, they are also competitive, and the elder Smith usually comes out on top.

"I'm 38 years old, and I've beat him one time," Jamie said. "And I've shot 79 or 80. You'd think there would be times when I would have a good round, and he would blow up, but that really hasn't been the case. There have been times when I'd be watching the scorecard and think to myself, 'I beat him on the front; it's going to happen this time.' But he would just grind it out on the back."

The one time Jamie beat his dad came during the Duel in the Desert in February. Jamie fired a 79 to edge his father by one stroke in a practice round.

James, in fact, coached his son on his high school golf team. (James was a high school math teacher). And Jamie was the top player on that team. But as Jamie pointed out, the golf season is extremely short in Vermont so high school golf isn't nearly as competitive as it is in other states. Instead, Jamie focused on other sports, and he was quite good at them, just like his older sister Jessica. Both of them played college basketball – Jamie at Keene State College in New Hampshire where he was a captain, and Jessica at the University of Rhode Island.

A career and family have certainly kept Jamie from working much on his golf game in recent years, so he has an excuse to not being at his father's level. Meanwhile, James has played a lot of golf since retirement 15 years ago and works at Farm Neck Golf Club on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., in the summers, giving him a chance to really hone his skills. 

Jamie says he tries to emulate his dad's skills.

"His short game is unbelievable," Jamie said. "He swings so steady. He's so smooth. He's very patient with his swing."