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BOURNE, Massachusetts – Winning the Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship certainly doesn’t get any easier as the years pass by. But at 63, Keith Smith (Franklin Country Club) has found a way to keep his game at a high level. On a breezy, crisp Wednesday afternoon, he cemented what has been his best season yet.
The Franklin resident made a crucial birdie putt on the 14th hole and difficult two-putt par on the 18th hole at Pocasset Golf Club (par-72, 6,303-yards) to capture the state Senior Amateur title for the fourth time (2013, 2016, 2017, 2021).
In the process, Smith tallied enough points to earn his first-ever George M. Cohen Mass Golf Senior Player of the Year Award. Fittingly, he held off four-time defending Cohen Award winner Frank Vana, Jr. (Marlborough Country Club), who chipped in on 17 to pull even, but ended up 3-putting the 18th to avoid a playoff with Thorny Lea Golf Club members John Hadges and David Pierce, who both finished even-par 144.
“There’s a bunch of good players so I’m fortunate to have any wins,” said Smith, who ties Ed Fletcher for the most Senior Amateur victories. “To have won four is beyond anything I ever expected.”
Keith Smith‘s one-stroke lead through Round 1 was anything but safe with a talented field nipping at his heels.
Smith was paired with Frank Vana, Jr., the 2018 Senior Amateur champion. Though Vana quickly fell off pace by going 4-over through 8 holes, you can never count the Hall of Famer out. Vana’s luck changed on the par-5 9th when he hit a wedge from 125 to the back on the green and spun it back in for an eagle.
“I was just I just felt like I was struggling, and I wasn’t having fun,” Vana said of the first eight holes. “And then the golf gods gave me a shot in the arm by holing out on 9. That was cool. And then after that, I started to hit some good shots. I was trying to stay positive.”
Despite a bogey on the 11th, Vana kept clawing his way back. Smith and Vana both made birdie putts on the 14th, with Vana’s rolling down a steep slow. Vana then evened the score by making birdie on the 16th and then chipping in from the rough on the 17th.
“He turns the screws on you and makes sure you’re up to it, and if you make a mistake, he’s going to beat you,” Smith said.
All even at the par-4 18th, both men found the fairway, but Vana’s approach shot landed on the left fringe, and with the pin tucked into the right side protected by a sharp ridge, it was anything but an easy putt. Smith’s shot landed below the pin but he still had a left-to-right slider.
After Vana’s first putt rolled into the opposite fringe, he missed the comebacker. Smith left himself about 4 feet and sank the winning putt to recapture the title.
“I knew that I was even with Frank, but we didn’t know where we stood with relation to anybody else,” Smith said. “I just tried to concentrate on getting the putt up there, don’t leave it above the hole, give yourself a little bit of a better look at it, and I got up to about four feet.”
Smith also found himself in a battle with David Pierce as the two exchanged leads on the back nine.
Pierce moved to 2-under through 9 holes Wednesday by shooting 3-under 33 on the front nine, including birdies on holes 1 and 6. His best shot of the day came on the par-4 8th. Pierce crushed his tee shot from the elevated tee by the clubhouse. Pierce hit an 8-iron from 144-yards, and he didn’t know it was in the cup until his clubmate and partner Steve Tasho yelled back that it went in.
“He’s always messing with me,” Pierce said of Tasho. “But I knew it was a good shot, and I’m glad it went in.”
Pierce was able to scramble at times but he said his goal was not leaving putts short, which he achieved. Though he stepped to the 18th at even-par, his birdie bid ended up right on the hole, but he made the comebacker to hold his spot.
Smith, meanwhile, remained poised even after missing par putts on the 10th and 15th that pushed him out of sole possession of the lead. His drive on the 14th found the left rough, but his approach rolled back to about 7 feet, and after making the birdie putt, he never trailed after that.
“I had to manage my game more today,” said Smith, who shot 70 the day prior. “I made a couple of poor swings that cost me, but I was able to just do enough to hang on. It was pretty stressful, but Frank is great to play with so that was a calming influence.”
Buoyed by this victory, plus winning the Mass Senior Four-Ball with Tasho, making the Round of 32 in the U.S. Senior Amateur, and finishing T2 in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament (Senior Division), Smith acclimated enough points to earn the Senior Player of the Year Award for the first time. Smith said he’s honored by the distinction and is hoping he can maintain his success moving forward.
“I never would have thought at 63 that it would be happening,” Smith said. “[I] just try to stay in shape, and maybe I can win a couple more, who knows?”
A handful of players in the field will return to Cape Cod next week for the final Mass Golf Championship of the season. The Super Senior Amateur Championships takes place Monday, October 4-Tuesday, October 5 at Wianno Club in Osterville.
Like Pocasset, Wianno was also founded in 1916. Len Biles laid out the original nine before Donald Ross added the second nine and then remodeled the entire course four years later when more land was acquired. In recent years, Gil Hanse has established a master plan for the course.