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Smotherman’s a golf junkie

Del Oro sophomore thirsty for more after a breakthrough summer
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Austin Smotherman has crisscrossed the country, played in close to a dozen golf tournaments and hit thousands of golf balls since finishing his freshman year at Del Oro High in June. But forget about burnout. Smotherman sounds like he’s just getting warmed up. “I don’t want to stop golfing at all,” Smotherman said after returning from the Northern California Golf Association Junior Championship at Spyglass Hill on Wednesday. “I just have the fire, the drive to go out and perform. It’s been pretty crazy, but I got to fly to these tournaments and play with guys from all over the world. I want do this summer over and over again.” A stellar round at Yolo Fliers Golf Club in Woodland in June set Smotherman’s whirlwind summer in motion. He fired a second-round 67 to finish second at the U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier and in turn earned a trip to the NCGA Junior Championship. “I had a 77 in the first round and I knew I had to shoot a low round to have a chance,” Smotherman said. “After that, my summer was pretty much booked. I never thought about how it would snowball after I qualified.” The highly competitive U.S. Junior Amateur was held last month at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. — one of the top-rated courses in the country. Smotherman shot rounds of 75 and 79 to finish 11-over par in stroke play and lost out in a tiebreaker for the final spot in the match play round. Just before his trip to Trump’s course, where he met the man who made, “You’re fired,” a famous phrase, the 15-year-old Smotherman landed a spot on an even bigger stage. He qualified for the Wal-Mart First Tee Open next month at Pebble Beach. Smotherman qualified locally in Sacramento, then at the national qualifier in Rogers, Ark. He and his friend Alex Gibbs, from Granite Bay, landed two of the 48 spots to play with Champions Tour players at the pro-am tournament. The First Tee Open selection process is more than just swinging the clubs and putting. The participants are interviewed by a panel of judges that included Wal-Mart executives and First Tee personnel. “We had interviews and they asked me about who I am and then about life skills — the things First Tee teaches you,” Smotherman said. “There were some questions that got me. They asked me to give my three strengths and three weaknesses and I paused for a few minutes on that one. There were a couple fun questions too, like who would be your dream foursome to play with. I said Ernie Ells, my dad, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones.” Smotherman’s father Troy said he gave his son a plastic golf club when he was 2 and Austin was banging the ball around the house immediately. Since then, golf’s been his passion, though he found time to play freshman basketball at Del Ore last year and enjoys beach volleyball and bowling. Though he’s of average size for his age, Smotherman said he regularly drives the ball 300 yards. “My putting’s been coming on,” he added. Earlier this summer, Smotherman took first at the Sacramento County Junior Championship at Ancil Hoffman. He finished third in three First Tee tournaments and led the Sacramento First Tee team to a match play victory, shooting the lowest score in the match (an even-par 72). Smotherman is currently ninth in the First Tee of Greater Sacramento points standings despite playing in just four of nine regional tournaments. His scoring average of 74.4 in tournament play ranks second in his division. As much as he might protest, Troy said Austin would take a break from golf over the next week. He’ll get a chance to go four-wheeling and spend time with family and friends before school starts later this month. But Austin said it might be tough to keep him away from Turkey Creek, where he practices and plays most often. Smotherman is motivated to work on his game after a 10th place finish at the USGA NorCal Championships. He had rounds of 78 and 79 to make the cut before an 87 on Tuesday. “I usually try to figure stuff out for myself,” said Smotherman, who said he has had only a few lessons from professionals. “I didn’t play too well at Spyglass, but every round is a learning round.”