Trailing by three holes after 25 of 36 holes Sunday, Kyle Smell was determined not to be Kansas Amateur runner-up for a second straight year.
So Smell, who graduated from Kansas State with a degree in business management in May, won the next four holes against fellow Wildcat Ben Juffer for a 1-up lead, and held on for a 2-up victory at Sand Creek Station.
“That was awesome,” Smell said of the four holes.
The hot streak enabled Smell to erase Juffer’s 2-up lead after the first 18 holes, which grew to 3-up when Juffer birdied No. 7.
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On the par-4 eighth hole, Smell saved par while Juffer took a bogey. At the ninth hole, Smell’s approach shot hit the flagstick and bounded away just inches from the cup for a birdie-3.
“That, I thought, was kind of lucky,” Smell said of hitting the flagstick. “I knew from the shot I had that I knew it was 35-40 yards downwind and I knew that for something to happen I had to hit it close. I hit the best shot I could, and it actually got a little help with the pin.”
He pulled even at No. 10 by saving par, and went 1-up at 11 by pitching to about 4 feet from the cup for birdie.
“I gave him a few, and he made a few crazy shots great shots,” Juffer said.
Meanwhile, Juffer was trying to regain the form that had gotten him the lead in the morning round. Smell pushed his lead to 3-up at No. 15 before Juffer rallied at 16 and 17. On 16, Smell’s drive went out of bounds, and he took a 6 on the hole while Juffer birdied the par-5 hole. At the next hole, a par-3, Juffer birdied to cut Smell’s lead to 1-up and showed some life going into the final hole.
“I let him back in on 16, on 17 he deserved it because it was a great birdie and a great tee shot,” Smell said. “And then 18, when I hit the tee shot, I knew I was in the right direction, that tee shot on 18 was the biggest part, and I just happened to hit a good (approach) shot in there and make the putt also.”
Both golfers were on the green at 18 in 2, but Juffer’s long birdie attempt went about 3 feet past the hole. Smell, who dropped a 2-and-1 decision to Hunter Sparks in the 2011 final, then sank his birdie putt from about 7 feet for the victory.
Finishing second a year ago helped inspire him in this year’s tournament, Smell said.
“Last year I kind of gave it away at the end, so that really put the salt in the wounds,” he said. “After last year, I felt I couldn’t go out runner-up.”
Smell, who won the Four-Ball championship earlier this year as well as a U.S. Amateur qualifier, said this makes the summer all the more sweeter. He could come back to defend his title in 2013, but that doesn’t seem likely.
“It has been a very good summer,” he said. “The plan for me is to go pro after the U.S. Amateur (Aug. 13-19 at Cherry Hills in Colorado).”
This year’s runner-up, Juffer, said he wouldn’t mind duplicating Smell’s feat at next year’s tournament.
“I could do the same thing he did,” Juffer said. “Runner-up, then win it next year.”