By Jim McCue | SportStars
By the time I was done with a round of golf with CIF State Boys Golf champion Austin Smotherman, my game and ego felt like it had been through 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.
Playing 18 holes with Smotherman, a 2012 graduate of Del Oro-Loomis who will leave for Southern Methodist University in Dallas on a golf scholarship in the first week of August, was a lesson in proper golf form and etiquette “” as well as a lesson in humility.
It’s great to witness a special golfing talent up close, but it can also be a test in accepting one’s own lack of talent on the links. I quickly realized that there was no way that I could keep up with the smooth, consistent swings off Smotherman and his friend and former high school teammate, Eric Ash, who will start his second year of school and golf at Sonoma State University this month.
So, instead of trying to match shots with guys that routinely shoot in the 70s, I skipped over the lob wedge and putter to pull self-deprecation out of my bag.
Winchester Country Club, a private course in Meadow Vista designed by Robert Trent Jones and his son, is a challenging par 72 among majestic homes and towering trees in the foothills between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. The course stretches as long as 7,144 yards from the gold tees (where Smotherman and Ash teed off) with elevation changes on most holes. In short, it’s not for someone who plays golf about two to three times a year””which is my unfortunate situation, and the main reason the shots I took at my game were some of the best shots I took all day.
There were plenty of amazing shots to admire during our round, including maybe two or three that I contributed to the highlight reel. My personal favorite was Smotherman calling his shot on the par-5 13th hole. Stepping up to the tee box after posting 10 pars, a double bogey, and a birdie, Smotherman was anxious for another red number and boldly predicted a “crazy eagle” despite barely being able to see the 575 yards to the green.
With the wind at his back, he crushed his drive nearly 340 yards to set up a shot at the green with a low iron. Smotherman ripped his second shot toward the flagstick and hit the green pin high before the ball rolled just over the back fringe and settled in the short rough behind the green. After waiting for my next four shots to get my ball on the back edge of the green, Smotherman stood over his ball and stood by his prediction. His chip bounced softly on the green before rolling into the hole for a “crazy eagle” that had me and Ash shaking our heads more in awe than in disbelief.
Before that memory was created for me to retell to friends for years to come, I created my own memory that might last even longer in my mind, and may grow in stature as my game continues to deteriorate while Smotherman’s has the potential to raise him to great heights.
The par-4 6th hole came after a disastrous pair of holes in which my score equaled the combined total of my two playing partners. Hoping to change my momentum, I selected to hit my Hybrid 3 off the tee to start the 379-yard journey to the hole. A topped tee shot that luckily carried the ladies’ tee to settle on the fairway eliminated very little of the hole’s yardage. Meanwhile, both Smotherman and Ash crushed their drives down the left side of the fairway before they rolled out of bounds and down a ridge into trees and brush.
My third shot, a 9-iron from about 135 yards out, is one that I wish was recorded for posterity because it landed on the green and rolled to within four feet of the hole. An easy roll in resulted in the lone par on my card for the day, but more importantly, it resulted in a one-hole victory that was broadcast on Twitter and Facebook as follows: “Hole No. 6: McCue 4; Smotherman 6. The rest of the round doesn’t count.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the round did count and I did a lot more counting than my playing partners. When all was said and done, my brutal 109 was no match for Ash’s 76 or Smotherman’s even-par 72. Scoring aside, the round was a success in that I had the chance to see one of the area’s top golfers play 18 holes of excellent golf on a scenic course that I had never played before. And I sure got a lot more swings in and saw more of the course than the average golfer sees in a typical round at Winchester.
Smotherman followed his round at Winchester with a trip to Chico to play in a Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) qualifier for the U.S. Amateur at Butte Creek Country Club in Chico with Ash on his bag. The state champion fired a 141 (-3) in the 36-hole format to finish fourth in the qualifier, but only the two lowest scores earned a trip to Cherry Hills Country Club outside Denver for the national amateur championship.
Smotherman’s next stop will be SMU where he will be one of five incoming freshmen looking to make their mark on the collegiate level. While success in college and beyond looks promising for Smotherman, he can surely find success anytime he wants to knock around a local sportswriter on the golf course.
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