BLOOMFIELD HILLS – Ben Smith of Novi met golf legend Jack Nicklaus on Monday and held the historic Staghorn Trophy Saturday after turning back Patrick Sullivan of Grosse Pointe in the final match of the 108th Michigan Amateur Championship.
The 19-year-old Georgia Tech Golfer, who topped Sullivan, a 19-year-old University of Michigan golfer, 2 and 1, called the entire week awesome. The state championship was presented by Carl’s Golfland and hosted by Oakland Hills Country Club’s North Course.
“Me and one of my buddies got to meet (Jack Nicklaus) on the putting green,” he said. “That was an amazing experience, meeting a great man. That was really awesome. I was definitely in a good move to start the week. And then this. My dad (Dave Smith) has always wanted me to win a Michigan Amateur, and my (swing) coach (Dave VanLoozen, director of instruction at OHCC) works here and he won it in 1988.
“I look at it as a great stepping-stone for the future,” he said. “If you can win the Michigan Amateur then you can go on to bigger things.”
Smith birdied three of the first five holes and won the sixth hole with a par for an early 3-up lead, but he could never shake Sullivan who churned out pars and an occasional birdie to tie the match on the short par 4 No. 15 hole. Smith drove the ball left of the green and down a steep hill, but his second shot failed to make it to the green and ended up in a bunker. Sullivan made a clutch par putt and the match was tied.
“At 15 for that chip, I had a bad lie,” Smith said. “The rough was long and going against me. I tried to do something good with it, and just bit off more than I could chew. That was definitely when it me that I have to hunker down here and make some moves.”
He made smart moves, with careful two-putt pars on 16 and 17 while Sullivan made bogeys to close out the match.
“All day long I wasn’t going to get upset with myself making pars,” Sullivan said. “With those birdies Ben got the lead, but I kept making pars and he made some mistakes. Pars go a long way. I wish I did it at 16 and 17. I missed the green at 16 and hit a bad drive on 17 and had to hit a good shot just to get it up to the green.”
Smith said he thought he had a secure lead after going 3-up through 12 holes.
“I made a couple of mistakes to let him back in and he made good pars” he said. “I was still confident though with the way my game has been all week. I knew I just needed to make a few good swings, stay mellow, let him make some mistakes and I would still be able to pull it out.”
Smith reached the final match with a morning semifinal win over defending champion Beau Breault of Hartland by the same score, 2 and 1. Breault, a former Eastern Michigan University golfer was runner-up, champion and a semifinalist in the last three years. He plans to turn professional later this summer.
Sullivan made the final with a 3 and 1 win over Coalter Smith, a former high school teammate at Grosse Pointe South who is headed to play college golf at the University of Wisconsin in the fall.
Sullivan had a vocal and sizable group of supporters in the gallery who offered up a Go Blue plaudit or two. He thanked them for their support and said the tournament was great. He plans to return next year.
“This is an event you think about all winter when you practice,” he said. “It keeps you going. I hope to put myself in this position again next year with a chance to win. This is a great field, and it was a great experience.”
Smith, who was the medalist and top seed, made some Michigan Amateur history with his win. The medalist won the championship for just the eighth time in the 108 years of the tournament, and Smith is just the sixth golfer to pull off the marathon feat of holding both the Chuck Kocsis Trophy and the Staghorn Trophy. Michigan Golf Hall of Famers Chuck Kocsis and Randy Lewis each did it twice, and the last time it was done was 20 years ago in 1999 by Lewis.
-Greg Johnson, email@example.com