Norton to Battle Smith In Mid-Amateur Final

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Wilmington, Del. ' Two players making their first appearances in the U.S. Mid-Amateur will duel it out for the right to be called champion Thursday at Wilmington Country Club.
 
Forty-four-year-old Bryan Norton of Mission Hills, Kan., and Nathan Smith, 25, of Brookville, Pa., will be paired in the final 36-hole match on the South Course.
 
A former professional on the PGA European Tour and PGA Tour, Norton dispatched defending champion George Zahringer, 50, of New York, N.Y., 3 and 1. Earlier in the day, Norton came back to defeat 35-year-old Pat Carter of Lesage, Va., in 19 holes.
 
Smith carved his way to the final by eliminating Alan Hill, 41, of Spring Branch, Texas, 5 and 4, in the semifinals and 1995 champion Jerry Courville, 44, of Milford, Conn., 3 and 2.
 
The winner of the Mid-Amateur historically receives an invitation to play in the upcoming Masters in April.
 
That would be the dream of dreams, and some kind of Cinderella story, said Smith, vying to supplant Greg Puga as the youngest ever Mid-Amateur champion. I cant even comprehend that right now.
 
Norton has played in four U.S. Opens and one British Open, tying for 28 th in 1990 at St. Andrews. Earlier this year he was the medalist at the British Mid-Amateur before losing in the second round. The championship this week marks just the fourth individual tournament hes played all year.
 
You know, it would be great, but at the same time, I dont know how well I could be playing in April, joked Norton. I cant even break 80 in May.
 
Except for a couple of missed 3-foot putts, Norton didnt look rusty Wednesday. In the match against Zahringer, Norton never trailed. He grabbed the lead on the fifth hole, pushing the advantage to 2 up by the turn.
 
In all, he had two birdies, the last of which came on the par-3 17 th hole where he stuck his drive to within 7 feet of the hole. But there was a reason for the shortage. Wind gusts of up to 30 mph played tricks with the ball all day.

Case in point: In Zahringers quarterfinal match against 31-year-old Rick Reinsberg of Lafayette, Calif., Reinsberg called a penalty on himself on the 18 th green after the wind moved his ball while he addressed it.
 
We went straight from summer to fall, said Smith. There were times you wanted to put it on the tee, quickly address it and hope it didnt move.
 
Zahringer, who made it to the finals the last two years, cut the deficit to 2 down when he knocked his 140-yard approach shot to 2 feet on No. 15 to win the hole but he couldnt sustain the charge back.
 
On No. 17, with the match dormie, Zahringer hit the fat part of the green for a 30-foot putt. He opted to chip, but the ball only went 12 feet. Soon after he conceded.
 
Looking back, [Norton] played steady all afternoon, said Zahringer. He had a very good ball-striking round.
 
It was pretty tough. I was kind of fighting my swing all week.
 
In the other semifinal match, Smith won five of the first six holes before Hill could capture his first at No. 7. The highlight for Smith came on the 378-yard par-4 sixth. Far left off the tee, Smiths ball bounded under branches behind trees with no sight line to the hole. He hit a blind approach shot to the green and two-putted to set up an impressive save par.
 
A graduate student at Clarion University in search of his MBA, Smith studied most of this week for an accounting test ' that was to take place Wednesday evening. He had a premonition that he would have to reschedule the exam.
 
The other night, you know what, I said to myself, Somethings going on here and closed the books, said Smith, whose father, Larry, is on his bag.
 
Neither Norton nor Smith knew anything about one another. Norton regained his amateur status in 1998, several years removed from a professional career on the PGA European Tour (1987-91) and one on the PGA Tour (1991). For six years after leaving the tours, he hardly competed, less alone played, he said.
 
My take is that the guys who play the most have the best advantage, said Norton, when asked about his professional past. Thats where you can get the advantage. I dont care if youre a pro or an amateur.