LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Three-time champion Nathan Smith advanced to the championship match in the U.S. Mid-Amateur, winning two matches Wednesday at Conway Farms Golf Club.
The 34-year-old Smith, from Pittsburgh, will face 25-year-old Canadian Garrett Rank in the 36-hole final, with the winner in line to get the Masters spot traditionally awarded to the champion.
Smith, the 2003, 2009 and 2010 winner in the event for players 25 and older, beat Corby Segal of Santa Clarita, Calif., 1-up in the morning quarterfinals, and topped 1994 and 2001 winner Tim Jackson of Germantown, Tenn., 3 and 1 in the semifinals.
Rank, an Ontario Hockey League referee, beat Matthew Mattare of New York 3 and 2 in the quarterfinals, and edged Todd White of Spartanburg, S.C., 1-up in the semifinals.
Smith is attempting to break a tie with Jay Sigel for the tournament victory record.
"That would be unbelievable," Smith said. "Obviously, I am a long way from that. I'm going to have my hands full (against Rank). I am going to have to play great just to stay with him.
"I'm honored now to have three, with the company I am in (with Jay Sigel). It's a fun event and I have enjoyed playing it through the years. But anytime you can say something that nobody else did, that would be great. This championship means a lot to me because I care so much about amateur golf."
Smith is 31-4 in match play in the event.
"I haven't figured it out," Smith said. "I think being from (Pennsylvania), it's always been at a nice time of year. You always get off to a slow start (in the spring) and in the summer you kind of find your groove. And by the end of the summer, early fall you are tournament-ready. It seems to be a nice fit through the years."
Rank is considering a professional golf career, but also has a chance of possibly becoming an NHL referee.
"I have aspirations of playing professional golf and would love to play the PGA Tour," Rank said. "But by the same token, I have been to some NHL developmental camps for referees. The problem is you can't achieve something like that with only 75 percent of your eggs in one basket."
Rank, who turned 25 three days before the start of the event, is trying to become the first player from outside the United States to win the event.
"I'm used to high-pressure situations. You definitely get nerves officiating," Rank said. "There are big moments and you draw off those. It definitely can't be of harm to the golf game."
He's scheduled to officiate a hockey game Friday night.