For Father/Caddie Larry Smith, 2009 Has Been Quite A Special Golf Year
By David Shefter, USGA
Kiawah Island, S.C. – All summer, Larry Smith has followed his 31-year-old son Nathan on the amateur circuit, from the Porter Cup in Lewiston, N.Y., to the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., to this week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at The Kiawah Island Club.
And wherever possible, the 62-year-old retired fifth-grade teacher has been carrying Nathan’s bag. In turn, Nathan has given his father the ride of his life, perhaps even bettering the 2004 invitation to Augusta National for the Masters, a perk for capturing the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur title at Wilmington (Del.) Country Club.
Nathan’s remarkable performances this summer earned him a spot on the USA Walker Cup team and for a father who watched his son evolve in a game he truly loves, it was the ultimate honor.
Larry Smith even choked up a bit behind Cassique’s 18th green after Nathan’s 1-up semifinal victory Thursday that advanced him to Friday’s 36-hole championship match against 33-year-old Tim Spitz of Rochester, N.Y.
“It’s a special time for his mother and I because your son is living his dream,” said the elder Smith, his face well-tanned from spending an entire summer caddieing and watching Nathan at some of America’s finest championship golf courses, including Merion Golf Club, site of the 2009 Walker Cup. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen my son so happy as he was being at the Walker Cup and playing for a team from the United States.”
As Nathan’s caddie, Larry isn’t required to do too much. Nathan reads the greens and there’s hardly ever a discussion on club selection or strategy. Larry, by his own admission, only carries the bag and the hole-location sheet. That, and maybe a little father/son chatter to relieve the tension.
“He’s cheap,” said Nathan with a laugh. “It’s been great. It’s one of those things that has really worked out.”
With 2009 being a Walker Cup year, Smith made a concerted effort to play as many national-level amateur events as possible. Since Larry is retired and has time – Nathan’s parents spend their winters in Myrtle Beach and summers in the Pittsburgh area – he jumps in the car with his son and travels to the events. And where he can caddie, he dons a bib and totes the bag. Those events included the Porter Cup, the Northeast Amateur in Rhode Island, the U.S. Amateur and Western Amateur at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, Ill.
“I didn’t do the Southern [Amateur] because it was too hot,” said Larry. “The Sunnehanna [Amateur in Johnstown, Pa.,] uses its local club caddies. [And] I didn’t caddie at the State Team. It was a pleasure spending time with him.”
Five years ago, Larry received the ultimate thrill by going to Augusta National for the Masters. He put on the white overalls and caddied for Nathan the entire week, which included a Tuesday practice round and two competitive rounds with fellow western Pennsylvania native Arnold Palmer. That also happened to be Palmer’s final two competitive rounds at a tournament he won four times, so Nathan got to play in front of some very large galleries. A double-bogey 6 at 18 in Friday’s second round prevented Smith from becoming the first reigning Mid-Amateur champion to make the 36-hole cut.
Nevertheless, it was a ride Larry and Nathan treasured.
“Palmer has always been my favorite,” said Larry. “He couldn’t have been nicer to Nathan and was so protective of him. When it came time for Nathan to hit, he would turn around and focus on Nathan so the crowds would stand still.”
Now Larry and Nathan are one match away from another possible invitation to the Masters. Because of Monday’s rainout, it’s been a physical challenge for Larry, but he’s managed to go all 117 holes, including the stroke-play qualifying rounds. So another possible 36 shouldn’t be a problem.
“As long as the Advil holds out,” said Larry, “I’ll be all right.”
David Shefter is a USGA Digital staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.