Novi’s Ben Smith Earns Top Seed for Match Play in the Michigan Amateur
BLOOMFIELD HILLS – Novi’s Ben Smith feels all the parts of his golf game are coming together this week.
The Georgia Tech golfer will have the No. 1 seed going forward after shooting a 5-under 65 Wednesday for medalist honors in the 108th Michigan Amateur Championship presented by Carl’s Golfland at Oakland Hills Country Club’s North Course.
Smith, with a two-round total of 7-under 133, will top a match play bracket of 64 golfers pared down from a starting field of 156. Six rounds of matches over three days will determine a champion by Saturday afternoon. Thursday play will determine a celebrated “Sweet 16.”
“Match play is nothing new for me – I’ve played a lot of it,” said Smith, a two-time Michigan Junior Amateur Champion. “I’m looking forward to it. Being the No. 1 seed or the No. 64 seed doesn’t mean that much really when you start a match. It’s nice to play well for two days, but we have a lot of golf left to play.”
Smith, who will have his name engraved on the Chuck Kocsis Trophy as medalist, will play in the first match Thursday morning at 7:15 a.m. against Carter Housler of Lansing, who was the last golfer in via a nine-golfer playoff at 11-over 151 for that one final spot in the bracket. The Country Club of Lansing golfer was one of two players who made birdie on the first playoff hole, and then he won the playoff with a par on the second playoff hole.
James Piot of Canton, another former Michigan Junior Amateur champion and a Michigan State University golfer, took the No. 2 seed after shooting 68 for 3-under 137, and Bryce Messner of Howell, who recently graduated from Grand Valley State University, was next with a 70 for 138.
Four golfers tied at 139 including first-round leader Logan Price of Grand Blanc and Florida Gulf Coast University, who shot 75 on the heels of his record tying 64 from the first round, Benjamin Balen of Freeland and Concordia University, who shot 68, Allendale High School golfer August Meekhof of Eastmanville, who shot 68, and Scott Sparks of Shelby Township and University of Detroit Mercy, who shot 70.
Nick Gunthorpe of East Lansing, who shot 71, Cameron Lippoldt of Midland and Northwood University, who shot 72, and Dan Ellis of East Lansing, the assistant men’s golf coach at Michigan State, who shot 70, each finished at even-par 140, and 2014 Michigan Amateur Champion Henry Do of Auburn Hills shot 69 and was among the group at 141. Defending champion Beau Breault of Highland, who just graduated from Eastern Michigan University, made it into the bracket easily with a 71 for 143.
The 19-year-old Smith was on pace to better the amateur course record of 64 before making bogeys on his two final holes – Nos. 8 and 9.
“I played really well for the first 16 holes,” he said. “I started hot on my front nine, the back nine, with three birdies pretty quick, and then started hot again on the back nine with three more birdies.”
He said the last two bogeys were the result of two drives that missed the fairway right.
“I had a hard lip-out on 8 and then had to get up and down for bogey on 9,” he said. “I just put myself in spots off the tee that were hard to recover from.”
Smith said he struggled some during his college season, but for the last couple of weeks has started to play very well.
“This week it has started to come together,” he said. “I started hitting the ball well yesterday and today I hit it really well and the putter started to roll, too.”
Smith likes the North Course and has been a student of Oakland Hills’ Director of Instruction David VanLoozen for over 10 years.
“This course sets up for my game and I know it fairly well,” he said. “It would be awesome to make a run for the W, but you have to go match by match. That’s what match play is all about.”
Piot, 20, said he had a round of extremely consistent ball-striking, and he was pleased to see his putts rolling well despite not falling as much as he would have liked.
“I had rough week last week in a tournament putting so I wanted to get out this week with a positive mindset and watch some putts roll end over end,” he said. “I felt I accomplished that. I’m looking forward to match play. I’m a big fan of it. It’s a completely different game. You play one guys instead of the field. It takes some stress off at times, and then adds some on at times. It’s fun. You just have to focus on one match at a time.”
RESULTS, MATCH PLAY BRACKET: Find complete scoring and the bracket at gam.org