STEVINSON -- Sam Smith has had times where he had to lean on his towering drives or his accurate play around the green to stay away from trouble on the golf course.
But at Tuesday's Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament, the Turlock High junior needed to make some big putts. And he did, with an unbelievable number of them from beyond 10 feet on the tricky greens at Stevinson Ranch Golf Course.
Thanks to those putts -- he had 26 for the entire round -- he shot a 2-under-par 70, earning medalist honors in the 111-player field. It was the second consecutive year Smith was the Section Masters medalist. Last year, he shot a 66 at Sierra View Country Club in Roseville, sharing top honors with Davis-Yolo's Tyler Raber.
Smith won't be the only golfer from the Central California Conference moving on. Los Banos junior Bobby Park shot a 4-over-par 76, tying him with Sacramento Waldorf's Austin Roberts for the final two spots. Smith and Park will compete at next Monday's NorCal Championships at Richmond Country Club.
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A steady wind blew from the west at Stevinson, turning many rounds into adventures and closing the door on a really low score from Smith.
"It was going to have to be calm for me to go low," Smith said. "When I got out there and realized it was breezy, I played a little more conservative and had to trust my putting."
Smith played the front nine in even-par.
"But you still couldn't go right at the flags," he said. "I think if it were a calm day I could've had something in the 60s."
His putting really saved him on the back nine.
He had a string of five holes -- Nos. 13-17 -- where he one-putted to make pars. And some of those putts were lengthy.
On 14, it was from 10 feet. On 15, it was a slider from 12 feet. On 16, he put his first shot deep and right on the 205-yard par-3, into a bunker. But he put his sand shot within eight feet, making the putt. And on 17, after his chip from close went well past the hole, he buried a 15-footer for another par.
He closed out the round by nearly eagling the 512-yard No. 18. He had a big drive, followed by a fairway wood to within 25 feet of the hole. His downhill putt for eagle went seven feet past the hole, but he made the birdie putt for a 70, setting off a cheer from the sizable gallery that followed Smith's foursome the entire day.
Los Banos' Park opened his round with a bang. On his second hole of the day -- the 369-yard No. 3 -- he dropped a bomb: a 40-foot putt for a birdie.
"That really got me going," Park said. "To start off like that, it really helps your confidence and can stay with you the entire day."
Like Smith, he played more conservative golf because of the wind.
"When it's blowing like that, you just have to keep it together and play smart," he said. "Everybody else had to play in it, too, so if I kept it close to par, I was feeling pretty good."
He had two birdies in his round, the second one coming on the shortest hole on the course -- the 151-yard No. 12.
He did, just enough to punch his ticket to NorCals.
"I've played better out here before," he said "But when the wind is going, this course becomes far more difficult.
"I get to keep playing, at least for another week," he said. "I'm pretty excited about that and I'm looking forward to NorCals."