Novi’s Ben Smith Wins 2017 Michigan Junior State Amateur Championship For Second Consecutive Title
BATH – Ben Smith of Novi wanted to leave junior golf with a bang on his way to college golf at Georgia Tech.
He did, winning the Michigan Junior State Amateur Championship presented by Pepsi for the second consecutive year by turning back Eric Nunn of DeWitt 2 and 1 in the title match Thursday at Eagle Eye Golf Club.
“I knew this was going to be my last junior tournament coming in and I was thinking I was ready to go and I really wanted to go for two in a row,” he said. “This means a lot to me to pull it off.”
Smith, who will be 18 in October, is the first junior to win back-to-back titles since the format of the 39-year-old championship switched to a match play bracket conclusion in 2000. He is the third in the history of the championship joining Kip Byrne, who won the first two in 1970 and ’71 and Michael Harris, who won in 1994 and ’95.
Smith, part of three consecutive Division 1 state high school championship teams at Detroit Catholic Central, and Nunn, part of back-to-back Division 2 state championship teams at St. Johns, staged an entertaining final by trading and matching birdies through the front nine, and by trading big momentum shifts early on the back nine.
Three times through the first 13 holes Smith had 1-up leads, and twice Nunn was able to move the match back to all square.
“Ben is such a great player,” Nunn said. “He birdied (hole) 4. I birdied 5. We both birdied 6. He birdied 8 and we both birdied 9. When I made a birdie, he did, too. It was tough tying holes with birdie.”
Smith made a three-putt bogey on No. 10 from 30 feet and Nunn made par to square the match, and then at No. 11 Nunn powered a hooked drive into heavy brush left of the fairway. He actually found the ball, hit it sideways out of the brush into a bunker, knocked in on the green and then made a 45-foot putt for a par to halve the hole.
Meanwhile Smith missed a six-foot birdie putt at 11 to add to the drama and momentum seemed to switch to Nunn. Smith brought it right back, however, draining a sliding 20-foot at the par 3 No. 12 hole for birdie and a 1-up lead.
Smith went to 2-up at No. 14 when Nunn hit another hook off the tee, this time into a water hazard on the par 5.
Smith gave a hole back at 15 though with consecutive poor chips, but then won it back when Nunn hit a poor chip at No. 16.
Smith closed out the match at the par 3 No. 17 hole when Nunn hit his tee shot just barely on the front edge of the island that is home to the green and the hole ended up halved with 4s.
“The front nine we started off hot trading birdies, and on the back we slowed down, but the back nine is a lot tougher, too,” Smith said. “It was about making the tough pars coming in then. I didn’t light it up the last few holes, but I did what I needed to do, whatever it took to win a hole.”
Nunn, who is headed to Grand Valley State University’s golf team, said he was proud of his effort.
“I put up a lot of fight,” he said. “Ben played really well, so he is a deserving champion. I gave it all I had.”
Smith fought off the surprising 13-year-old Davis “T-Bone” Codd of Brighton in the morning semifinal by and 3 and 2 score. Codd, the recent GAM 14 & Under champion, is believed to be the youngest semifinalist since the current match play format was started in 2000.
Nunn, meanwhile, battled to a 2-up win over Curtis Hughes of Belle River in the other semifinal.
A field of 84 golfers, determined by sectional qualifying and exemptions, started the week with 36 holes of stroke play to fill out the 32 spots for match play. Patrick Sullivan was the stroke play medalist with a 66-69-135. Five rounds of match play resulted in Smith holding the trophy for the second consecutive year.
RESULTS/BRACKET: Can be found at gam.org under the Championships tab.
via Greg Johnson