U.S. Wins The Spirit for Third Time

November 6th 2011 - For Immediate Release                                             
The Spirit Golf Association
Nov. 5, 2011
(P) 713-823-5750
TRINITY, TEXAS—When you beat a field the best amateurs in the world by 10 shots, as the U.S. Team did Saturday at the sixth playing of The Spirit International at Whispering Pines Golf Club, there’s really not much left to say.
American Nathan Smith found some fitting words, however.
“That was a perfect ending to an amazing week,” said Smith, who ignited the final rally with a tap-in eagle on the 14th hole that pushed the U.S. Team to a lopsided gold medal performance in the coveted International Team Division. The Americans posted a final score of 31-under par in the 72-hole, best-ball stoke play championship.
Argentina and Mexico tied for the silver medal at 21-under, and Korea took home the bronze with a score of 20-under par. For the U.S., this was the second straight team title and third overall. The Americans also won gold in 2003.
Under sunny skies and perfect playing conditions, the U.S. started the final round with a three-shot lead. They played textbook team golf throughout the day and finished with a a flurry. Smith, Kelly Kraft, Austin Ernst and Emily Tubert played the final five holes—considered by many as the best closing stretch in Texas—at 5-under par, including Smith’s eagle and a 35-foot bomb for birdie by Ernst on the 18th hole.
“This is just awesome,” said Ernst, who along with Tubert also claimed the bronze in the Women’s Team Division. The U.S. Team shot a combined 11-under in the final round and suffered only one team bogey.
“When you’re in the lead by three shots going into the final day, playing mistake-free golf is key,” Ernst said. “You want someone to have to come take it from you. But we played pretty flawlessly today and didn’t let that happen.”
Mexico mounted the biggest threat, playing 10-under as a team to vault from seventh place into second. Paced by the stellar play of Carlos Ortiz and Sebastian Vazquez, Mexico trailed the U.S. by just four shots before Smith took aim at the green on the gorgeous par-4 14th hole that plays over an inlet of Lake Livingston.
“The marker said 392 yards, but it was downwind and I cut the corner,” said Smith, a 33-year-old lifetime amateur who has won three national championships as USGA Mid-Amateur. “Kelly hit a great drive down there and I knew he was going to make par or birdie. He turned me loose, and I went for it.”
Smith’s drive hit the middle of the green, rolled up a slope and came back down to finish one foot from the pin. He tapped in the eagle putt to get the U.S. to 28-under par. Smith then drained an 11-foot birdie on No. 15 to give the Americans a comfortable six-shot lead with three holes to play. They finished in style, carrying the American flag over the stone bridge that leads to the 18th green to the chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” from the excited gallery.  
“There has been some talk recently about the American teams’ ability to close out these kinds of tournaments,” said U.S. captain David Fay, the former executive director of the USGA. “This great team punctuated a fabulous week and showed that Americans can still close.”
Smith and Kraft did more than that. Their final round combined score of 8-under-par 64 lifted them into rarified air. The talented duo won the Men’s Team Division at 18-under 270. They also tied five other players for the Men’s Individual title. The American men join Americans Paula Creamer, Lorena Ochoa and Lexi Thompson and England’s Daniel Willett as the only players in the history The Spirit to win three gold medals in a single competition.
“This was a bit of redemption for me and Nathan both,” said Kraft, the reigning U.S. Amateur and two-time Texas Amateur champion. “We both played for the U.S. in the Walker Cup, but we lost. Everyone said we were the heavy favorites over there, but we didn’t get it done. Playing for your country is such a special honor, but you really want to win. It feels great to take the gold here at The Spirit.”
The U.S. was so dominant in the final round that it would be easy to overlook Mexico’s performance. But the Mexicans played nearly as well as their neighbors to the north. Ortiz said they will head home content with the silver medal.
“This feels great,” said Ortiz, who won the 2011 individual Sun Belt Conference title at the University of North Texas. “I’m not surprised, because we knew we could win this tournament. Maybe not this year, but we will be back.”
Mexico also won silver in the Men’s Team Division, tying with the gritty Canadians at 16-under par. Canada’s Garrett Rank fought through a stomach virus and dehydration that sent him to the hospital for several hours after the first round. Japan won the bronze medal in the Men’s Team Division.
The Korean women won gold in the Women’s Team Division with a score of 15-under par. Argentina, led by the torrid play of potential future LPGA star Victoria Tanco, took silver in the Women’s Team Division at 14-under. The U.S. women took the bronze.
Tanco, who recorded a final round hole-in-one on the 159-yard par-3 third hole, won the Women’s Individual title. She made 16 birdies and the eagle on the week. Tanco, a four-time participant in the Women’s U.S. Open as an amateur, heads to the final stage of LPGA Qualifying School on Nov. 30.
“I chose this as my final amateur tournament because it is so important and special,” Tanco said. “I enjoyed my amateur career and look forward to what comes next.”
Germany’s Sophia Popov won the silver in the Women’s Individual Division, and Korea’s Kyu-Jung Baek won the bronze.
The Men’s Individual competition finished in a logjam. Seven players tied for the gold medal, including Kraft, Smith, Ortiz, Thomas Pieters from Belgium, Mackenzie Hughes from Canada and South Africa’s Ruan de Smidt.
Four competitors tied for men’s individual silver medal: Lorenzo Scott, Italy; Clement Sordet, France; Hideto Kobukuro, Japan; and Mexico’s Vazquez. Another six tied for the men’s individual silver medal, including Rank, Ireland’s Reeve Whitson, France’s Joel Stalter, German Benedict Staben, Brad Moules from Australia and Kaster Kjaer Estrup of Denmark.
The following is a list of the all the players who received medals at the 2001 Spirit International.
International Team medal winners
Gold Medal winners (31-under par)
U.S.A.: Austin Ernst, Emily Tubert, Kelly Kraft, Nathan Smith
Silver Medal winners (21-under par)
Argentina: Manuela Carbajo, Victoria Tanco, Franco Romero, Jorge Fernandez Valdes
Mexico: Alejandra Llaneza, Gabriela Lopez, Carlos Ortiz, Sebastian Vazquez
Bronze Medal winners (20-under par)
Korea: Si-Woo Kim, Gyu-Bin Kim, Hyo-Joo Kim, Kyu-Jung Baek
Men’s Team medal winners
Gold Medal winners (18-under par)
U.S.A.: Kelly Kraft, Nathan Smith
Silver Medal winners (16-under par)
Canada: Mackenzie Hughes, Garrett Rank
Mexico: Carlos Ortiz, Sebastian Vazquez
Bronze Medal winners (15-under par)
Japan: Mamiko Higa, Eri Joma
Women’s Team medal winners
Gold Medal winners (15-under par)
Korea: Hyo-Joo Kim, Kyu-Jung Baek
Silver Medal winners (14-under par)
Argentina: Manuela Carbajo, Victoria Tanco
Bronze Medal winners (13-under par)
U.S.A.: Austin Ernst, Emily Tubert
Men’s Individual medal winners
Gold Medal winners (13 total birdies)
Kelly Kraft, U.S.A.
Thomas Pieters, Belgium
Carlos Ortiz, Mexico
Mackenzie Hughes, Canada
Ruan de Smidt, South Africa
Nathan Smith, U.S.A.
Silver Medal winners (12 birdies)
Lorenzo Scott, Italy
Clement Sordet, France
Hideto Kobukuro, Japan
Sebastian Vazquez, Mexico
Bronze Medal winner (11 birdies)
Reeve Whitson, Ireland
Garrett Rank, Canada
Joel Stalter, France
Benedict Staben, Germany
Brad Moules, Australia
Kaster Kjaer Estrup, Denmark
Women’s Individual Medal winners
Gold Medal winner (18 total birdies)
Victoria Tanco, Argentina
Silver Medal winner (16 birdies)
Sophia Popov, Germany
Bronze Medal winner (15 birdies)
Kyu-Jung Baek, Korea
About Whispering Pines
The host course for The Spirit International is Whispering Pines Golf Club, located 80 miles north of Houston, in Trinity, Texas. Whispering Pines has been ranked the No. 1 course in Texas every year since 2006 by the Dallas Morning News. Most recently Golf Magazine and Golfweek ranked Whispering Pines in America’s Top 100 Courses. Visit www.whisperingpinesgolfclub.com for more information.
About The Spirit Golf Association
The Spirit Golf Association, a 501© (3) charitable organization, is responsible for the Whispering Pines membership program and tournament management of The Spirit International. The Texas Golf Association is the governing association for The Spirit International competition.  For more information on The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship, please contact Tournament Director Eric Fredricksen at 281-298-2664 or efredricksen@spiritgolf.org. The official website for The Spirit International is www.thespiritgolf.com.  
About Camp Olympia
Camp Olympia was founded by former University of Texas football players Corby Robertson and Chris Gilbert in 1968 as a summer camp to promote outdoor education for youth. During the playing of The Spirit Camp Olympia serves as the International Village for the participants.