By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nate Smith should have known the prank would have consequences.
Earlier this week, he hid a walkie-talkie in James Hahn's golf bag and started talking to his buddy while he hit balls on the range at the Quail Hollow Club.
"He couldn't figure out who it was," Smith said. "We were getting a kick out of it, but it was driving him nuts."
Smith finally 'fessed up and Hahn figured out a way to get payback. He put a little sign on Smith's brand new golf bag -- flown in special after he Monday-qualified for the Wells Fargo Championship -- that said: For charity auction. All players please sign the bag.
"So people started signing it, which is like, you know, kind of a little embarrassing when you're playing as a Monday qualifier," Smith said sheepishly. "You don't want people to be making fun of you. But I kind of had it coming from James, so it's all in good fun. I'll be getting him back. So don't you worry about that."
Smith may have the last laugh anyway after firing a 67 that left him tied for the lead with with Rory McIlroy, Ryan Moore, Nick Watney, Robert Garrigus, Derek Ernst and Daniel Summerhays. He would have owned the lead alone, too, had it not been for a bogey at the 17th hole. Not bad for a guy who only has conditional status on the Web.com Tour.
Smith, a Californian who graduated from Duke, said he counted up the signatures before he teed off.
"I think there are like 60 on there, and the best one might be the one that says 'happy birthday,' because it's definitely not my birthday until August 7th," he said. "But I saw like Stuart Appleby's on there because it says 59. Then Camilo's got one on here that's kind of cool.
"It's hard to make them out, because I haven't checked them out. I was busy playing golf. But I'll try to do something with the bag afterwards. Maybe I actually will put it towards charity now that I've used it or give it to somebody to keep it around for myself."
Smith has played in five Web.com Tour events this year and his tie for 29th last week in Valdosta was his best finish of the season. He three-putted the last hole to fall out of the top 25 which would have gotten him into this week's Stadion Classic -- but it may turn out to be a good omen given his performance so far at Quail Hollow.
"I played well the last round at Valdosta and was able to shoot 69 and jump up the leaderboard a little bit," Smith said. "And that was a big, long golf course so it gave me a little indication of what we'd be facing this week with the wet conditions.
"So hopefully it's going to be a place where I turn a corner."
By Michael Curet, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
Nate Smith and local professional Joey McLister of Charlotte, N.C., each shot 7-under 63 to earn medalist honors at the Monday qualifier for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship.
Vaughn Taylor also earned a spot in the field, shooting 64, while another local professional, Jack Fields, won a six-man playoff after shooting 65 to earn the final spot.
For the 28-year-old McLister, the Wells Fargo Championship marks his second PGA TOUR career start, having missed the cut a year ago at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. In two Web.com Tour events in 2012, McLister made his first professional cut, tying for 44th at the Midwest Classic Presented by Cadillac.
Smith, who qualified for the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock as an amateur, is making his return to a PGA TOUR event for the first time since 2011 when he played 16 events. This year, he's made five starts on the Web.com Tour, where his best finish was a tie for 29th.
Taylor, who won the Reno-Tahoe Open in back-to-back years in 2004 and 2005, is looking to put together the same sort of success at Quail Hollow, where he tied for fifth in 2005 and sixth in 2006. His best finish this season was a tie for 14th in Puerto Rico. He also tied for 21st at Bay Hill.
The last man standing in the Monday qualifier at Charlotte’s Carolina Golf Club was Fields, who will go into his first PGA TOUR start on a course in which he is quite familiar. After playing two years at the University of North Carolina, Fields spent six months as an intern at Quail Hollow. The 22-year-old Southern Pines native dominated the ranks as an amateur in the area, capturing the North Carolina Amateur, the Carolinas Amateur, the Carolinas Open and North and South Amateur.
In 2012, Fields missed the cut in Web.com Tour stops at the United Leasing Championship at Victoria National Golf Club and Chiquita Classic.
CROMWELL, Conn. -- Nate Smith made the second hole-in-one of the week -- and the day -- when he aced the fifth hole with a 3-hybrid.
It was the second ace of the day with D.J. Brigman making one on the 11th earlier in the day.
It was the first hole-in-one for each.
It's obviously very difficult for a rookie playing late on a Sunday for the first time on the PGA TOUR. No one learned that more quickly than Nate Smith.
The former Duke star -- playing in just his eighth TOUR event -- surged into contention with a brilliant 66 on Saturday to put him 9 under, just four shots back of the leader. Smith, a q-school graduate, had an outside shot at the impossible dream -- a spot in this week's Masters. His best finish all year was a tie for 31st in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.
It looks like he will have to rally just to have his career best finish. Smith has drowned in a sea of bogeys at Redstone, including a double bogey at the par-5 fifth when he blew his approach way left in a native area left of the green. He's 4 over after just seven holes, dropping him into a tie for 37th.
Coming into the final round, he'd made just four bogeys all week.
NATE SMITH'S SCORECARD:
HONOLULU -- First tee, first PGA TOUR start for 2011 rookie Nate Smith. That's when it started to sink in, when he started to comprehend the magnitude of the situation.
"OK, here we go," Smith thought.
Eighteen holes later, Smith found himself near the top of the leaderboard, having shot a 5-under 65 in his debut on TOUR.
Not bad for the Duke graduate, who has played on the Nationwide Tour, the European Tour, the Challenge Tour, even the Hooters Tour but was making his first start in a PGA TOUR event after successfully navigating q-school last fall, finishing tied for 11th. Smith is one of nine rookies who made their first career starts on TOUR at Waialae on Friday.
In all 27 rookies are in the field this week.
"I feel like I belong out here," Smith said. "But you don't really expect to come out and play so well during the first event.
"But that being said, maybe it was just because I didn't any time to think about it."
Despite the rainy weather that wiped out Wednesday's pro-am and Thursday's play, Smith didn't spend his time sitting around his hotel room and worrying about how he'd perform.
He went spear fishing. He swam in the ocean. He visited the north shore of Oahu. He hung out with the guys with which he's sharing a house. He basically kept his mind off things.
"I went up to the north shore and kind of like, 'Oh, we're actually playing golf today?' I didn't really have time to think about it," Smith said. "So that was awesome."
Smith, who was 27th on the Nationwide Tour money list last year, didn't start fast. He was 1 over through eight holes. But consecutive birdies around the turn -- he made a 15-foot putt for birdie at the ninth hole -- got him into red numbers and he kept the momentum going with a bogey-free back side.
Of course, now having shot himself into contention after the first round, Smith can breathe easier. Or will he?
After all, he's traded the nervousness of playing his first round on TOUR for the pressure of being near the lead.
"I'm going to go out and try to play one shot at a time," Smith said. "Obviously, that's very cliche, but the same attitude.
"I won't be dwelling on it this evening and thinking about getting ahead. I've been in enough experiences so far where I've had success and I've looked forward too soon ... I'm going to try and stay away from that." – Mike McAllister