Eastside grad qualifies for US Amateur

COVINGTON -- It seems that the third time was the charm for Taylor Smith.

The former Eagles golfer and rising sophomore at Georgia College and State University probably made the biggest three-foot putt in his career as it sent Smith to the 110th U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay Golf Club in University Place, Wash., starting Aug. 23.

"This is my third time trying to qualify; it feels awesome to qualify. This will be the biggest tournament I've ever played in my life. I'm just so overwhelmed and excited," he said. "It means the world because I've been working so hard. I keep trying to get better and I am. This validates that by qualifying."

The birdie on the 17th hole of the second day of the qualifying round at Achasta Golf Club in Dahlonega put Smith at 5 under-par for the tournament. If he had made a par he would've been in a three-way playoff for the final spot.

"On 17, which is a par-3, I hit a six iron three feet and made it for a birdie," recounts Smith. "That was when I realized I had a chance. That's when I got nervous, when I thought there was a chance."

He closed the tournament with a 68 while shooting a 67, including a bogey, for his opening round.

"I love the U.S. Amateur; this is one of my favorite golf tournaments. It's the biggest amateur tournament in the world and I know all the best golfers and collegiate golfers from all over the country and all over the world will be there," Smith said. "I know it's going to be tough and the course is going to be awesome. It's really exciting."

Even though he finished strong, it wasn't an easy beginning as he started the second round bogeying two of the first seven holes.

"I knew I had to shoot under par that second day to have any kind of chance. When you bogey one hole it's like no big deal. Then I bogeyed another hole and I knew I had to be patient because I'd been playing well and it was a matter of time before the birdies started coming. I birdied eight and nine and it was off to the races. I've been playing well this summer so I wasn't worried when I was 2-over par (for the day) through seven. I've been there this summer and I've posted good numbers. I was able to draw on previous experience to get it done."

After the two bogeys to start the second round, Smith came back and dropped four putts for birdies.

"I didn't know what it was going to take to qualify. I just had to go out there and play the best I could and hopefully I'd end up in the top five. But when I got to hole 16 I knew I had make one or two more birdies to get it," Smith said.

Smith will be the second local golfer playing in the U.S. Amateur this year. Joining Smith will be former Heritage golfer Bill Jones III who qualified at Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta in July.

"It's pretty awesome that two people from (the) Covington (area) are playing in the U.S. Amateur. Covington has always been a football and baseball town. Now we have two golfers playing in the biggest golf tournament in the world," Smith said. "The winner of this gets into the Masters and that's unbelievable to think about. I'm very excited that I'm going to be joining Bill out there."

Even though he's going to be without a large group of followers while playing in the U.S. Amateur, he knows that he still has his gallery with him throughout the entire time he is there.

"I know that people will get online and checkout the scores. I think it makes it easier when you know that people want you to do well," he said.

"I haven't thought about where I'll finish. I'm just glad to be there. Everything from here on out is an added bonus to my summer. I wanted to qualify and now I'm there so it's just a reward. I just want to play the best I can and go as far as I can."