WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Patrick Smith did not necessarily gain any motivation from last year's fall out of the Top 10 when he showed up for this year's West Virginia State Amateur at The Greenbrier.
He knew that he was in fifth place after two days last year, his second-round 68 (the second lowest score of the day) jumping him way up in the standings. He also understood that he finished with a 77 and a 78 to place tied for 19th.
But Smith also knew his game was completely different, after a year spent on the college links with his Davis & Elkins teammates.
The former two-time state champion at Wyoming East, Smith had the best area finish at this year's Amateur with a nine over 289.
With the finish inside the Top 15 (he was tied for 10th) he is now exempt from qualifying for next year's West Virginia Amateur and West Virginia Open.
"I can't say it tops the feeling of winning a state championship but it feels amazing to put my name up there with some of the great golfers who have played in the Amateur," Smith said after his final round Friday.
"I feel like I have earned some respect from my playing partners, from my peers. It gives me the knowledge and the confidence that I can go out there and play with the best amateur golfers in the state."
He didn't have a 68 in his golf bag this year, which was dutifully caddied by his sister Victoria, age 9. But he did have steady rounds of 72-75-70-72.
His lone hiccup day, if you can call it that, was the second round in the Meadows course (75) he made up for in the third round 70 on the Old White TPC.
"If I had to pick my best round that would be it and I three-putted to finish even," Smith said of that third round. "I love the Old White. It's my favorite course, it's a great tournament course. You have to hit fairways and greens but it's fair."
It's especially fair when you're at ease with your game, and Smith said he is, although it's a lot different than last year.
"My mental game is one of the stronger aspects of my game that has really improved," Smith said. "I'd say golf is 90 percent mental and that has really helped. Also, my swing is totally different. My coach J.D. (Lamm, at D & E) is a professional swing coach. I never had a professional work on my swing and to think that it is 100 percent better from where it was last year feels good."
Smith's plus 9 represents a 12-stroke improvement over last year's finish, illustrating his point about the improvements in his game.
Smith finished tied for 10th with Fairmont's Jess Ferrell.
Bridgeport's Mason Williams (minus-2) took the Amateur title, winning a three-hole playoff with Hurricane's Philip Reale and Bridgeport's Woody Woodward.
Smith said his goal was to etch his name among those winners one day.
"This is the one, this is the tournament I want to win, this is the important one to me," Smith said. "I'd rather win this one more the (state) Open, more than any tournament. Look at the history, the known names in the world of golf. And I'm going to go out (one day) and I'm going to get it."
Other local finishers include Daniels' Todd Duncan +11 (T-13), Smith's Wyoming East teammate and Pineville native Brett Laxton +14 (T-17) and White Sulphur Spring's Nick Dent +14 (T-17) Shady Spring's Landon Perry +15 (T-23) and Princeton's Jeff McGraw +15 (T-23).
Smith said that he will report back to Davis & Elkins Aug. 19 and will have four or five fall matches in the state.
He also said D & E is moving back into the Mountain East Conference and he knows a lot of the golfers at most of the MEC schools.
"From UC, Concord, Fairmont and the list goes on and on," Smith said "A lot of my friends golf in the MEC so that is going to be nice. And we have six incoming freshmen, all from different countries. I want to serve as their mentor and show them some things that might help them adapt to the college game."
Next year, there will be no qualifiers. Smith knows that is the real prize.
"All I have to do is show up and golf and you really can't top that," Smith said.