MIDLAND, TEXAS -- Former Duke standout and Nationwide Tour rookie Nathan Smith rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to fire a 6-under 66 and come from behind to win the WNB Golf Classic by two strokes over Fabian Gomez, Brandt Jobe and Alistair Presnell. Smith finished at 18-under 270 to collect his first career victory.
"I don't know whether to cry or just scream: I'm just flooded with emotion right now," said Smith, a 2006 Duke graduate. "The first thing that comes to mind is all of the hard work and everything I've done to get to this point."
"To be able to come through in the clutch like that is the best feeling in the world. To have a putt on the 18th hole to win was just an amazing feeling and to make it was awesome."
With the win, Smith earned $94,500 and jumped from No. 78 to No. 25 on the money list with five tournaments remaining. The top 25 money winners at the end of the season earn a spot on the PGA TOUR next year.
Smith, a two-time All-ACC selection, entered the final round at Midland Country Club at 12-under and two strokes back of Darron Stiles, who birdied the second hole to move to 15-under. Smith birdied the first hole but quickly gave it back at the par-5 second hole.
"I hit my tee shot into the mesquite and we heard a rattlesnake in there so we peeled out of there pretty quickly and chose to play my provisional," he said. "I ended up making a birdie on my second ball but a bogey overall. After that I hit the ball consistently where I had to be, giving myself flat putts. I was lucky my putter heated up -- Black Magic I call her -- she made her way back in the bag this week so she'll be in there for a while now."
After making bogey on the second hole Smith went on to birdie five of the next eleven holes and climb to 17-under, tied with Jobe. Despite being tied for the lead there wasn't much breathing room. Presnell, who finished his round about an hour and a half before the leaders came in, posted a 7-under 65 to take the clubhouse lead at 16-under. Gomez matched Presnell at 16-under a few moments later and when Jobe lipped out for par on the last hole to join them things were starting to look like a playoff would decide this year's champion.
Smith, playing in his 23rd event of the year, had sole possession of the lead standing over his approach shot on the 18th hole when Jobe missed his 10-foot putt for par. But Smith had his work cut out for him. He was 221-yards from the green in the rough with overhanging trees blocking his view to the green. His options were to play a sweeping slice or try and start it right of the green and hook it back.
"I saw a little gap to the right and asked Brian (his caddie) if there was out of bounds over there," said Smith, who by virtue of his win locks up a spot in the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island. "We couldn't really tell if there was or not so I just swung it out about 30 yards right and it came down on it (the pin) about 35 feet from the hole -- it was the best result we could have expected. We looked at each other and said let's have some fun out here today."
Smith, who led the field in birdies this week with 24, needed just two putts from 35 feet to claim the largest paycheck of his career but he didn't know that until moments before he hit the birdie putt.
"I didn't look at a scoreboard all day which was my goal," he said. "It's hard because they put them (scoreboards) all over the place. I had my head down all day and as we were walking down the fairway on the last hole and I told my caddie now is probably a good time to tell me."
The Santa Cruz, Calif. resident, who played in Europe last year because he didn't have any status on the PGA TOUR or Nationwide Tour, secured his 2011 Nationwide Tour card and puts him in great position to finish inside THE 25 and earn his 2011 PGA TOUR card.
"This is my greatest accomplishment," said Smith. "I feel like I'm good enough to play on the PGA TOUR but at the same time coming out here and playing on the second-best Tour in the world is a blessing in disguise. If I make it to the PGA TOUR at the end of the year I know I'll be better equipped."
Courtesy of PGA Tour