The Story Behind Local Professional Golfer: Austin Smotherman

“I remember telling my dad at the end of my high school golf career, that I want to play professional golf for a living,” said Austin Smotherman, the Sacramento Player of the Year in 2012.

Del Oro High is very well known for the success of its football program. Since 1989, the Golden Eagles have been a powerhouse, winning 12 Sac-Joaquin Section titles and five Northern California championships. They also captured the California Interscholastic Federation state 2AA Division crown in 2015.

The school, which is located in the town of Loomis, in Placer County, is also known for something else: golf.

“It was cool to see my buddies and be a part of those classes that had some really good football players who went on to go play in college and compete for state championships, but inspired me to maybe play a little bit better golf to get my name up in the gym as well,” said Austin Smotherman, a 2012 Del Oro graduate.

Smotherman did not play football, but he is a big, big part of Del Oro’s rich, storied and proud history in athletics.

In 2011, as a junior, he tied for fourth place at the CIF/Northern California Golf Association Boys NorCal Golf Championships, shooting 72 at Butte Creek Country Club in Chico and leading the Golden Eagles to a ninth-place finish.

He advanced as an individual and played at the CIF State Boys Golf Championships at Poppy Hills Golf Course at Pebble Beach. His 71 gave him a fourth-place finish.

In 2012, as a senior, he shot 71 and tied for eighth at the CIF/NCGA Boys NorCal Golf Championships at Butte Creek. Del Oro finished fourth in the team standings.

Smotherman was the low medalist, firing a 67 and winning the individual title at the CIF Boys Golf Championships at San Gabriel Country Club.

“I remember telling my dad (Troy Smotherman) at the end of my high school golf career, that I want to play professional golf for a living,” said Austin Smotherman, the Sacramento Player of the Year in 2012. “My dad was like, ‘Well, now that you told me, I can tell you that I’ve been saying that for a long time now.’ I guess he kind of always saw it in me.“

After playing four years of college golf at Southern Methodist University, Smotherman turned pro in 2016 and on May 9 won the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation, a Korn Ferry Tour event. He shot 16-under 272, with rounds of 65 69, 69, and 69 for a 3-shot victory at The Grove, in College Grove, Tennessee. He earned $108,000.

It was Smotherman’s second win as a pro.

He won the Mexican Open, a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event, at Tijuana Country Club in 2018. He shot 18-under 262 and won by a four-shot margin after rounds of 66, 65, 66 and 65.

He is traveling and seeing so much of not only the country, but the world, as a tour player. During his two years on PGA Tour Latinoamerica, he played in 15 different countries.

“Sometimes, you’ve just kind of got to look up and kind of pinch yourself and remember what city you’re in, first, but then, take a step back and be like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool, what we can do with our talent, our god-given gift of being able to hit a golf ball better than most,” he said.

Connection to Haggin Oaks Golf Complex

There is so much that Smotherman remembers from his days of growing up in Sacramento County and Placer County and starting out in golf at a very young age.

His background in golf can be traced directly to the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, a 36-hole facility that features two courses, the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course and Arcade Creek Course, driving range with 100 hitting stalls and target greens, Haggin Oaks Academy Holes, the MacKenzie Putting Course, Player Performance Studio, Super Shop, Haggin Oaks Shoe Store, Club Performance & Repair Center, and MacKenzie’s Sports Bar and Grille.

Smotherman took his first golf swing at 3 years old. He joined the nine-hole Little Linkers and Junior Linkers programs on the Arcade Creek Course at Haggin Oaks when he was 6 and began to have success in the game right away as a junior, winning consecutive age-group titles at 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 on Wednesday afternoons during the summer league.

“Definitely a lot of memorable rounds,” he said. “A lot of hot summer days but all definitely worth it.”

Little Linkers, open to youths ages 7 to 12, is eight-week parent participation, competitive playing program that is offered by First Tee – Greater Sacramento, according to www.firstteesacramento.org. It’s held at the following locations: Haggin Oaks, Sacramento; Bing Maloney Golf Complex, Sacramento; Emerald Lakes Golf Course, Elk Grove; William Land Golf Course, Sacramento; Woodcreek Golf Club, Roseville.

There is another connection that Smotherman has with Haggin Oaks. One of his first sets of clubs came from Haggin Oaks.

“I went in, did all of my club fittings, and got all of my equipment,” he said. “I’d always go in there and tinker with everything in between rounds, or every junior round we had out there.”

He also practiced out of Haggin Oaks – in particular with his short game.

“They would allow me to go out there and get good practice in. It was a spot to be,” he said.

Smotherman played a lot of his golf at Haggin Oaks – high school, junior and amateur events. He was the recipient of a Morton Golf Foundation college scholarship.

“My senior year of high school, I was very grateful to have received the Morton scholarship. I was fortunate enough to be selected,” he said.

Smotherman played other courses in the area as well – including Ancil Hoffman Golf Course in Carmichael, Bing Maloney, Darkhorse Golf Club in Auburn, The Ridge Golf Course in Auburn.

“Honestly for me, there is just the amount of good public golf we had. There are just so many goods, tough, challenging courses that you got to learn a lot about your game, from maybe not having to be a member at a country club or something like that. I had so many high school buddies that weren’t even on the golf team that still enjoyed playing a round or two.”

There is so much that Smotherman has learned about the game from Tim Hovancsek, a PGA Master Professional, and a former coach at Sierra College in Rocklin and William Jessup University in Rocklin.

At Sierra, Hovancsek was a three-time Big 8 Conference Coach of the Year.

Smotherman also got help from his dad, Troy Smotherman, and his grandfather Bill Acquistapace.

“My first competitive golf maybe showed my parents I had some hope of maybe playing in high school or something like that. It’s still a pretty young age. But the thing I think that helped the most is I played a bunch of other sports,” he said.

He has also played in Junior Golf Association of Northern California events at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa. Silverado is the host of the Fortinet Championship, a PGA Tour event, Sept. 13-19. It’s the first event of the 2021-22 FedExCup Regular Season schedule.

Off to college at SMU

Smotherman had an outstanding career at Southern Methodist University, with three runner-ups, seven top-5, and nine top-10 finishes in four years.

He was a two-time All-American Athletic Conference selection. He was also named All-Conference USA.

As a senior, he had a 72.26 scoring average and had second-place finishes at The Farms Collegiate Invite and Erin Hills Intercollegiate. He also tied for fifth at the Hawkeye-Great River Entertainment Invitational.

He was named to the PING All-Central Region team as a junior, as he had two top-5 and seven top-10 finishes during the season. He tied for fifth at The Goodwin and the GolfWeek Conference Challenge.

Smotherman and Bryson DeChambeau reached the round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championships, a U.S. Golf Association event in 2015.

He qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 2014.

As a sophomore, he tied for fourth at the American Athletic Conference Championships and tied for 29th at the NCAA Championships.

He reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2013.

As a freshman, Smotherman was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team and was selected second-team All-Conference USA. “It was some of my best memories,” Smotherman said of his college years. “Memories I’ll have when I’m traveling across the country. I’ve been to so many cool cities with the team and experiences on top of getting to play golf.”

Smotherman graduated in 2016 with a degree in advertising. He completed a minor in sports management.

Competing as a tour player

Smotherman joined PGA Tour Latinoamerica for the 2017 season by finishing in a tie for 10th at the U.S. Q-School. He made the cut in 10 of 14 starts, with three top-10 and six top-25 finishes, and completed the season ranked 30th in the Order of Merit.

Smotherman received a sponsor’s invitation into the AT&T Byron Nelson, a PGA Tour event. He did not make the cut in his Tour debut.

He tied for second at the Shell Championship at Melreese Country Club in Miami. He tied for fifth at the Honduras Open presented by Indura Beach and Golf Resort.

During the 2018 season, he won the 59 Abierto Mexicano de Golf at Tijuana CC, carding a final-round 65 and shooting 18-under for the event.

His other top finishes:

  • Third place at San Luis Championship at La Loma Golf.
  • Third place at the Sao Paulo Golf Club Championship at Sao Paulo GC.
  • Tied for sixth at Diners Club Peru Open presented by Lexus at Los Inkas GC.
  • Seventh place at 113 VISA Open de Argentina presented by Macro.

Smotherman joined the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019.

He made 25 starts that season, tying for third at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship, tying for ninth at the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay, and tying for 62nd at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. He ended the season No. 69 on the regular-season points list.

He finished fourth at the TPC San Antonio Championship at the Oaks in 2020.

This year, he has tied for 15th at the Emerald Coast Classic at Sandestin in April and tied for ninth at the MGM Resorts Championship at Paiute also in April.

He won the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation. He chipped in for a birdie with a 60-degree wedge on the 17th hole of the final round. For the week, he was first in greens in regulation (59 of 72) and was tied for second in fairway accuracy percentage (49 of 56), according to www.pgatour.com.

He experienced all kinds of emotions with the win.

“It was definitely a feeling of gratitude, of relief and excitement and joy, so many of those emotions kind of wrapped up all together. All the hard work that goes into the days, weeks, months, years leading up to what we do every single week just to have an opportunity every single week to do that. And when it’s your time, you’ve just got to kind of get out of your own way and let it all unfold how it’s going to happen. Because that week, the feelings of how I was playing, it was just total focus, total zone. I got a little taste of it. You can do some pretty cool things when you’re so in the zone. The whole week I was just locked in.” He continued his solid play by finishing in a tie for fifth place at the Wichita Open Benefitting KU Wichita Pediatrics in Wichita, Kansas the week of June 17-20. He shot 17-under 263, with rounds of 70, 65, 64, and 64 at Crestview Country Club. He earned $20,100.

“I’ve always driven the ball and hit the ball really well. And that’s pretty much what won it for me that week,” said Smotherman, who makes his home in Dallas with his wife, Jessica, and plays out of Trinity Forest Golf Club.

“But to take it to another level, which I know I have in me, it’s going to take elevating the short game and making a few more putts day in and day out, because I get plenty of opportunities.

“It’s just continually trying to improve my short game. You still can’t neglect the other parts of the game, when some things are going well or other things get more attention. But that’s what we have a whole entire season for. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”

Smotherman is No. 25 on the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List. The Top 25 earn their PGA Tour cards at the Korn Ferry Tour regular-season finale.

It was founded as the Ben Hogan Tour in 1990, and later became the Nike Tour, then the Buy.com Tour, Nationwide Tour, and Web.com Tour. According to a report at www.pgatour.com:

“The Korn Ferry Tour’s mission is to identify and develop golf’s next stars, preparing them to compete and win on the game’s biggest stage. Since 2013, the Korn Ferry Tour has provided 50 PGA Tour cards annually.

“Each season, the top 25 players secure PGA Tour cards via the Korn Ferry Tour’s regular season and an additional 25 players secure promotion through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. With more than 550 PGA Tour titles and 24 major championships, Korn Ferry Tour alumni make up over 75 percent of the PGA Tour’s current membership.”

* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor, and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.

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