Vintage amateurs Todd White and Nathan Smith get deciding points in Walker Cup victory
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To be sure, the future of American golf is in the hands of college stars such as Justin Thomas and Max Homa, who are expected to turn professional Monday. But the soul of American golf rests in the likes of Todd White and Nathan Smith, who work all day and try to sneak in some holes before dark.
It was not surprising that young players stood out in the Walker Cup event Sunday against the Great Britain and Ireland team: Thomas had a one-sided win, Homa made a hole-in-one and others excelled as well.
But it was fitting that the climactic strokes in a resounding 17-9 U.S. victory were scored by White and Smith. They are a couple of vintage amateurs, appropriate for the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, one of the country's vintage courses.
White, 45, long ago was a star at Furman then tried pro mini-tours before becoming a high school history teacher in South Carolina and regaining his amateur status. He never has had a huge individual victory. Walking up the 15th fairway toward a 4-and-3 triumph over Rhys Pugh, he heard the cheers that represented his American dream.
Having secured the 13th U.S. point and mindful that the team needed only 13½ -- and that Smith was right behind him with a sizable lead over Nathan Kimsey -- he choked up. "I thought," he said, "that it kind of validates all the time and effort. I'm at a loss for words."
Back in the classroom Wednesday -- Sept. 11 -- he will tell of having visited the 9/11 Memorial with his U.S. teammates and having spoken with President George W. Bush during practice here Thursday. For the rest of his days, White will be able to tell of the Walker Cup. "To put on the colors of your country and to be able to perform, I can't think of anything an athlete would want more," he said.
Smith, 35, an investment adviser in Pittsburgh, has won four Mid-Amateur titles and played in four Masters. When he was asked how Sunday fit into his career arc, he said, "This is right at the top of the list. I never wanted a point so much." When he went 2-up on the eighth hole, he was in tears.
That Smith and White earned the big points was vindication for captain Jim Holtgrieve, who was given a Mulligan by the U.S. Golf Association after his team lost this event in Scotland in 2011 and allowed to add two Mid-Ams (players 25 and older).
Holtgrieve thought even older spirits were in play at the National, the birthplace of the Walker Cup 91 years ago. "I think Bobby Jones and all the team from 1922 were here today," the winning captain said, "and they're all saying good things about us."