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Monday, July 17, 2017

Smith rolls to R. Jay Sigel Match Play title for a fifth time

   You could argue that Jay Sigel is the second greatest American amateur golfer behind only the legendary Bobby Jones.
   You really only need to check a Walker Cup fact sheet and see Sigel, a Lower Merion product whose home base has always been Aronimink Golf Club, as the leading point-getter among United States golfers in the series with 18 points to validate that opinion.
   Which is why it means so much to western Pennsylvania’s Nathan Smith to play well in the Pennsylvania Golf Association’s R. Jay Sigel Match Play Championship. The 38-year-old Smith is doing a pretty fair imitation of following in Sigel’s considerably large footprints in his amateur career.
   He owns a record four U.S. Mid-Amateur titles, surpassing Sigel’s old record of three. And he has played on three U.S. Walker Cup teams, including a winning U.S. side in his first try at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course in 2009. The guy knows match play.
   Smith, playing out of Wildwood Golf Club, proved it again last week, capturing the R. Jay Sigel Match Play Championship title for the fifth time with a 3 and 1 victory over Dave Brown of Champion Lakes Golf Club Wednesday at the Country Club of Scranton in Clarks Summit. It is easily the most victories in the event since it was renamed in Sigel’s honor in 2004.
   “I am honored to have my name associated with anything that has Jay Sigel’s name on it,” Smith told the PAGA website. “He was a great amateur and champion and it means a lot to me to win his tournament   for the fifth time.”
   Smith grabbed a 2-up lead by holing a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole and getting up and down from a greenside bunker for par at the fifth. The first of a couple of drenching rainstorms halted play after six holes.
   Brown cut his deficit in half by winning the seventh hole, but Smith restored his 2-up lead by winning the ninth with a birdie and extended his advantage to 3-up with an 8-iron to six feet that led to a birdie at the 11th.
   The 55-year-old Brown, who captured the PAGA Senior Amateur in May at Lebanon Country Club, got one back by winning the 13th. But Smith stubbornly held onto his 2-up lead by holing tough par-saving putts at 15 and 16, the latter of which came with rain again pelting the Country Club of Scranton.
   Smith had one more big putt left in him at the par-3 17th. Both players found bunkers off the tee, but Smith blasted to 15 feet and made the par putt to finish off the 3 and 1 victory.
   Earlier Wednesday, Smith claimed a 3 and 2 victory over Sean Knapp of Pittsburgh National Golf Club in a semifinal match. The 55-year-old Knapp has been a friend and rival of Smith’s in western Pennsylvania for many years.
   Smith had to get past the youngster in the final four as he claimed a 2 and 1 win over Furman sophomore Steve Cerbara, a scholastic standout at Holy Ghost Prep, in the other semifinal.
It was a pretty good week for the Temple contingent at the Country Club of Scranton with three of Brian Quinn’s Owls earning spots in the 16-man match-play bracket.
   Marty McGuckin, the former Malvern Prep standout, fell to Knapp, 4 and 3, in the opening round. McGuckin, a sophomore, was highly complimentary of the conditions at the Country Club of Scranton when he was my caddy colleague for a day at the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Christman Cup last week at Stonewall’s North Course.
   It was an all-Temple opening-round match in which junior Gary McCabe Jr., a Collegeville resident and former La Salle standout, edged redshirt junior John Barone, 1-up. Barone plays out of Glenmaura National Golf Club and was right at home at the Country Club of Scranton.
   McCabe gave Knapp all he wanted in the second round before falling on the 19th hole.
Former Conestoga standout Michael Cook, a junior at Drexel, reached the second round of match play before falling to Brown, 5 and 4.
   Cook joined up with Drexel teammate Brendan Bacskai, a former Malvern Prep standout, to help Applebrook Golf Club to a runnerup finish in the team competition based on scores compiled during the stroke-play qualifying.
   Cook had a pair of 71s and Bacskai had rounds of 79 and 78 to give Applebrook an 11-over 299 total.
   Barone helped Glenmaura National claim the team title with a 10-over 298 total. He had qualifying rounds of 76 and 73 while Patrick Mitchell had rounds of 71 and 78 as Glenmaura National went 147-151 in the team scoring.
   The third member of the Glenmaura National team in the 3-score-2 format was Marywood’s Nicholas Biondi, who captured the Central States Athletic Conference title this spring at Bellewood Golf & Country Club near Pottstown. Biondi had rounds of 79 and 78.

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