'A long time coming': Novi's Ben Smith returns to competitive golf at Michigan Amateur
The last time Ben Smith played a competitive round of golf was in early March in Las Vegas.
If nothing else, the return to that environment makes this week feel special.
"Yeah, it's exciting," said Smith, the defending Michigan Amateur champion. "It's been a long time coming, so it feels really good to actually play for a score that matters."
Smith, 20, is out to defend his Michigan Amateur championship, starting Monday at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs. Nobody has defended the Michigan Amateur successfully since Grosse Ile's Glenn Johnson won three in a row, from 1954-56.
Smith headlines a field of 156 players, the biggest field on the Golf Association of Michigan's schedule of summer tournaments.
GAM has been able to keep most if its events, despite a delay to its season because of COVID-19, which shut down sports in March.
Smith, a Detroit Catholic Central alum, and his Georgia Tech teammates had just wrapped up a tournament in Las Vegas when their season was axed.
"I've spent a lot of time in Atlanta, and our range was still open throughout the quarantine, so I was able to pretty much hit balls or stay in my apartment," he said. "So I kept busy one way or another."
The downtime actually could prove to be an advantage, Smith said.
"Yeah, I mean, being able to know for a fact you're going to have a big amount of time before your next competitive round, you can actually sit down and put a plan together for what you're working on, where you need to make changes," he said. "You can focus on some of the smaller things, and you're able to do that without being too technical before a tournament."
Boyne's renowned Heather course is hosting the Michigan Amateur for the fourth time, and the first time since 2011.
Monday and Tuesday rounds will be stroke-play format, before the field is trimmed to the low 64 scores for the match-play portion of the tournament. Rounds 1 and 2 of match play are Wednesday, Rounds 3 and 4 are Thursday, and the semifinals and championship match are Friday.
In last year's final at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Smith beat Grosse Pointe's Patrick Sullivan, 2 and 1.
Smith could become the 12th man to win multiple Michigan Amateurs, and nobody has won consecutively in more than 60 years.
"That would be really awesome," Smith said. "It'd be a pretty cool experience."