Kolpack: It's one coast-to-coast adventure after another for former Detroit Lakes standout golfer Kate Smith
There was the 5-under 67 that Kate Smith shot in the final round of the Copper Rock Championship in Hurricane, Utah in May. That got here a tie for 17th place.
She shot a solid 1-under in the opening round a week ago at the Epson Tour event in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., only to be followed by a 78 and missing the cut. This isn’t the high school circuit at Detroit Lakes or the Division I lifestyle of the University of Nebraska anymore.
This is real-life stuff.
For instance, how in the world can a town in Utah be called Hurricane? And how does a town in Florida get named Howey-in-the-Hills?
A year out of college, Smith finds herself doing laundry on the second floor of a Holiday Inn somewhere in the country or figuring out when she needs to change the tires on her car. At times, she’s her own caddie and travel agent and one look at the Epson Tour schedule reveals 21 events that crisscross the country.
“Things come up and you have to handle them,” she said. “You’re wearing a lot of hats, so I’m learning a lot.”
She’s learning about how to survive in professional golf. The Epson Tour is one step below the LPGA Tour, similar to what the Korn Ferry Tour is to the PGA Tour. It’s the minor leagues.
At least in baseball, in the minors there are people to drive you to games and feed you. In pro golf, it’s all on you.
It’s probably the first time in her young golfing career she hasn’t been regarded as the best player on her team. First of all, there are no teams in pro golf. Second, there are no guaranteed contracts.
There are no teammates or head coaches to pick you up after a bogey on No. 18.
“It’s hard, you play poorly, you go to the hotel and then you have to drive to the next site,” Smith said. “How do you pick yourself up and figure out how to play better next week? I have lovely, supportive people who are sometimes on the road with me. But you have to be in your corner and for a golfer that doesn’t always come naturally because we tend to be hard on ourselves.”
But it’s what she signed up for and she knows it. Smith knew she was trading in the red and white team chemistry at Nebraska for a solo career.
“I think college athletes are very lucky, I was super lucky at Nebraska,” Smith said. “At any Big Ten school you get treated well. I think the biggest change is the travel. It’s a lot being gone for three, four weeks at a time, which I’ve never done before.”
Yet, she has very few complaints. She’s taking advantage of the travel by visiting as many national parks as she can. And there’s the feeling of playing on a tour with some of the best players in the world.
It may not be the LPGA Tour, yet, but the players can see it from there.
Smith has made three cuts in eight tournament appearances. She could make more money working at a fast food restaurant and it doesn’t help that gas prices are at all-time highs. Rental cars at airports are not cheap. But that’s not the point.
It’s all about the chance to make it.
“If 20 mph was a college tournament, the professional tournament is 100 mph,” Smith said. “The pressure of going through a whole week of work, play and go home after two days without a paycheck … is more different than I thought, but at the same time, you have to remember what got you here and you can’t forget that either.”
One promising statistic: she’s 39th on the Epson Tour in driving distance, averaging 272 yards off the tee. She’s got the length; now it’s time to hone the short game, specifically putting.
“It is encouraging that some of my stats look good and I belong out here,” Smith said. “On this tour, you’re ping-ponging all over and you’re changing grasses every week and that’s been tough for me to figure out. You’re on Bermuda. You’re on bent. It’s a whole new world.”
One world that hasn’t changed: her graphics design degree at Nebraska. Smith and Golf Channel broadcaster Shane Bacon have their own business called Ground Under Repair Design, a golf-related partnership that focuses on logos, branding, merchandise consulting, among other things.
Remind yourself that Kate Smith is only 23 years old.