Laurel’s Bailey coasts to first State Mid Amateur win, fourth MSGA title

By 
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Laurel’s Nate Bailey hits an approach to the 14th hole during the first round of the Montana State Mid Amateur tournament last Thursday. The Laurel High School and Rocky Mountain College standout shot rounds of 68–64–71 to win the tournament by six, adding to an already storied Montana golf career. Outlook photos by Chris McConnell

Laurel’s Nate Bailey hits an approach to the 14th hole during the first round of the Montana State Mid Amateur tournament last Thursday. The Laurel High School and Rocky Mountain College standout shot rounds of 68–64–71 to win the tournament by six, adding to an already storied Montana golf career. Outlook photos by Chris McConnell

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New Rocky Mountain College Head Golf Coach Nate Bailey won his fourth Montana State Golf Association title on Saturday at Laurel Golf Club after firing a three–round total of 13–under–par.

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Nate Bailey hits his second shot into the par four 12th hole at Laurel Golf Club on August 13 during the first round of the MSGA Men’s Mid Amateur tournament. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

Nate Bailey hits his second shot into the par four 12th hole at Laurel Golf Club on August 13 during the first round of the MSGA Men’s Mid Amateur tournament. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

On Saturday, 1999 Laurel High School grad and Montana Hall of Fame golfer Nate Bailey added to his storied career by winning his fourth Montana State Golf Association championship and his first Mid Amateur title by six shots at Laurel Golf Club after rounds of 68–64–71. Bailey was born and raised in Laurel and recently was hired as the head golf coach at his alma mater, Rocky Mountain College. Bailey said he had a golf club in his hand at age three and competed in his first tournament when he was eight. By the timte he was 10 he was doing well at the county junior tournaments with his future high school teammate Brett Woods. “Brett was my neighbor and we made each other better growing up,” he said. In junior high Bailey was shooting in the low to mid 70s and by the time he entered high school he was shooting around par. The first big tournament he qualified for was the Optimist International Junior Championship at PGA National in Florida. When he got to high school, the LHS team finished second to Polson by one stroke during his freshman year in 1996, then along with teammates Brad Fox, Judd Norman and Woods won the next three Montana State Class A State Championships. “My sophomore year was a battle but the next two years we won going away,” he said. Bailey was in the top–5 all four years individually and won the State Class A individual title his senior year in 1999.

After high school Bailey signed with the University of Idaho but said, “The coach who recruited me left the program and I only lasted a month there. I took a year off school then talked to Randy Northrop (head coach at the time) and enrolled at Rocky.” He then set off on an historic career at the school, breaking multiple scoring records between 2000–2004, winning the Frontier Conference tournament 3–of–4 years and was named conference player of the year his freshman, junior and senior years. He led the team in scoring all four years, had the lowest scoring average in the nation among NAIA schools in 2000–2001 and was in the top–6 nationally all four years of college. He has four of the seven lowest scoring averages in RMC history and holds the top spot with a 71.59 average over the 2002– 2003 season. Bailey won five of eight tournaments in 2000–2001 and 11 throughout his college career. He shot par or better in 43 rounds over four years and holds the record for the lowest scoring average over a career with 71.97 after 89 rounds played. He was also awarded All–American honors twice and was All–Conference all four years. The only thing missing from his storied career was a berth in the NAIA National Championship. “Back then you had to win the regional tournament as a team or individual. Normally the second place team got an at-large bid but that didn’t happen my freshman year,” he said. After graduating in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and minor in Mathematics, he moved to North Carolina and briefly flirted with a professional golf career while teaching and coaching golf and basketball at the high school level.

He got his amateur status back in 2009 and moved back to Montana, taking a job teaching math at Forsyth High School. In 2010 he moved back to Laurel, got married and began dominating the Montana State Amateur tournament. In 2010 he won his first MSGA title at Yellowstone Country Club in Billings by two shots. In 2011 he routed the field and set the current State Am scoring record after blistering Canyon River in Missoula with rounds of 67–67–62–71 (-21). He won his third consecutive state title in 2012 at Briarwood Country Club in Billings and was subsequently inducted into the MSGA Hall of Fame later that summer.

His 2013 bid for a four–peat was unsuccessful at Green Meadow Country Club in Helena where he finished third.

By then his growing family became a priority and he began a six–year hiatus from competitive golf. He married his wife, Callie, in 2011 who had two children from a previous marriage. They had their first child together in 2012 (Jocelyn) and their son Benjamin followed in 2014.

Bailey took a job at Montana Rail Link working nights and had real-life commitments. “We had four children under the age of six and my family obligations took over and I stopped playing. From the end of 2013 through 2017 I only played a few times a year,” he said.

In the fall of 2017 he rejoined Laurel Country Club as a member. “Our kids were old enough that they started getting into golf and I started playing a little more.”

This June he was hired as Head Golf Coach at RMC after Aaron Pohle stepped down. “I always wanted to get back into golf and be involved with the Rocky program. I threw my name in the hat and got offered the job at the end of June,” he said.

He made his return to competitive golf at the State Amateur at Yellowstone Country Club in July and said it was his worst showing at a State Am after finishing 16th. “It was a brutal finish,” he said. After taking a few days off he mulled over whether or not he would even play in the State Mid Am at his home course, but ultimately entered the event. “I’d never played a state event here. I worked on my game and Brett came to town and we got the gang back together, which helped. Brett, Judd, Brad and I played a round together at Yellowstone.”

Bailey then played well in the Laurel club championship, taking first after a two–hole playoff against MSU–Billings’ Paul O’Neil, a 2019 LHS grad.

Last Thursday at Laurel Golf Club, Bailey shot a four–under 68 in the first round of the Mid Am to take a three shot lead over 2020 State Amateur Champion Jake Hedge and 2018 Mid Am Champion Jim-Bob Coleman. He lit up the course on Friday firing 31–33 for an eight–under 64 to extend his lead to seven shots over Hedge. He coasted to a six shot victory after a final round 71 and a 13–under total to win his first Mid Am and fourth overall MSGA title.

He credited his low scoring to adding his old putter from high school. “The State Am in 2011 was the best I ever hit the ball, but this was best I ever putted. I had no three putts and made almost everything inside 10 feet, plus a bunch of 10–15 footers.”

Even with the seven shot lead going into the final round Bailey knew he couldn’t relax, setting his target number at 68. “This tournament had a strong field and the final group had eight MSGA titles between us,” he said [Josh Hedge, 4; Bailey, 3; Jake Hedge, 1]. “I started off with some pars and got comfortable, then made a birdie and got into the red. I knew someone had to go low to beat me and Jake made a good run on the back.”

He coasted to the finish with a one–under 71 and had his first Mid Am in two attempts (he finished second in 2011 at Meadowlark Country Club in Great Falls).

As for what’s next, Bailey said, “Now it’s time to put my coaching hat on and go to work. Everything has kind of come full circle.”

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