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Ian Smith feels at home on River Greens course

The Daily Jeffersonian
The Daily Jeffersonian
 2022-05-25
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ALLIANCE — River Greens Golf Course is a bit far to be considered Ian Smith’s “home” course. The West Lafayette facility is around 30 miles from Smith’s home base in Cambridge.

Smith still has carded numerous rounds walking the fairways and greens at River Greens, which he admits gave him a slight mental edge when the Ohio Athletic Conference’s championship tournament was held at River Greens earlier this month.

Safe to say he is familiar with the Par 72 course.

“It helps because we played there for the second round of the ECOL Tournament and against for sectionals every year,” Smith admitted. “It helps when you’re familiar with the course.”

Familiarity or no, the former Bobcats’ standout and current Mount Union junior still had to hit his greens and sink his puts as and advantage is only an advantage if one uses it. That Smith did.

He carded a 2-over-par 290 for his four-day total, including a career-low round of 68 on Day 1 top set the tone as he tied with John Carroll’s John Order for co-medalist honors.

“That kind of set the tone for the rest of the week and gave me the confidence that I could win,” Smith said. “Going in, I knew I was confident in my game and where I was and it really just solidified my confidence.”

Smith’s sophomore season, he entered the OAC Championship, also at River Greens, second on the Purple Raiders. But he finished with a team-low 306, good enough for a tie for seventh overall individually.

That year, Smith was four strokes off the lead after an even-par round of 72 on Day 2. But he followed with a 4-over 76 on Day 3 and an 8-over 80 for the final round to finish in seventh.

Back to this season’s tournament, Smith followed his career-best with a 1-under-par 71 on Day 2. This time, it was Smith who carried the four-shot lead heading into the weekend rounds.

He admits the pressure again got to him briefly. Smith faltered with a 79 on Saturday, allowing Baldwin Wallace’s Logan Bratsch and John Carroll’s Ian Johnston to close the gap. The pair trailed Smith by one stroke heading into Sunday. JC’s Order overcame earlier struggles and entered Sunday only three off the lead at 221.

“It was a different feeling coming into the weekend having a four-shot lead and having never been in that position, I kind of let the pressure get to me,” Smith said. “Because of that, I learned from it though and was able to deal with the pressure on Sunday.”

Both John Carroll and Baldwin Wallace had better team totals than Mount Union, meaning Smitha and his Purple Raiders teammates hit the course earlier Sunday.

Smith did his part, shooting an even-par 72 to finish with 290. Then he had to wait to see if that score would hold.

Bratsch and Johnston eventually dropped off, shooting a 76 and 79, respectively, on the final day. But Order kept coming, drawing even with Smith through 15 holes.

“I knew I was going to play out ahead of them and, with live scoring, everyone could see where (the score) was when they headed out. I could post a good number, but they could see and look what they’d need to do to beat me.

“It also made it tough on him, but (Order) played an absolutely fantastic round.”

Order was 3-under par through 15 and was on fire, shooting his best round of the weekend. All that remained was a 220-yard par 3 on No. 16, followed by a short Par 4 on No. 17 and a Par 5 on No. 18. Only No. 16, with its large water hazard just before and to the right of the green, posed a problem.

Smith admitted he didn’t want to win via a stroke penalty should Order’s tee shot fall into the drink. But it might have calmed his nerves a bit during the final three holes.

“It’s not a great feeling when he tied it up with three holes to play,” Smith said. “I was a little nervous and not optimistic, but everything worked out. No. 16 is about a 22-yard Par 3 and there was a big cross breeze that day. It’s one of the most intimidating tee shots anywhere.But after that, No. 17 and 18 are very birdie-able holes.”

Order could draw no further and he and Smith shared the co-medalist honors, Mount Union’s first medalist since 2015.

That’s one goal accomplish. But Smith has another that, admittedly, he thought he’d already crossed off his list—qualifying for the NCAA Division III national championship.

While the OAC winning team earns the conference’s automatic bid, only six individuals not from qualifying teams are selected to the national tournament. Smith was not one of those six, so he’s fixated on rectifying that situation for his senior season.

“That’s been my goal ever since I walked off No. 18 on Sunday and found out (individually) winning isn’t an automatic qualifier,” Smith said. “I’m now all about getting ready and doing what I can to put myself in position to make it.”

Smith admitted he didn’t play his best in a few tournaments earlier in the season and that ultimately had a detriment on his overall average for the season. His aim now is to view every tournament his senior season as a qualifier, once necessitating his best effort.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t play my best in a few tournaments and they kind of look at your season-long average,” Smith said. “But it’s got me to where now, I’m looking at every tournament like it counts as a qualifier to nationals and I must do my best.”

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