Smith Fits "Rocky" Theme As U.S. Open Underdog
By Martin D. Emeno, Jr.
ARDMORE, Pa. – Jesse Smith’s trek to Merion Golf Club and his first U.S. Open puts Rocky Balboa’s underdog story to shame.
Smith, 33, shared tri-medalist honors at the Purchase, N.Y., sectional qualifier on June 3 to earn golf’s ultimate invitation. It was a result that provided an island of solace on a two-year journey littered with turmoil and self-doubt.
Smith is a career mini-tour regular. About 24 months ago, constant struggles plagued his game and he headed to his longtime teacher David Glenz at Black Oak Golf Club in Long Valley, N.J., in search of answers. Smith taught lessons at the club for income and worked with Glenz to retool his swing.
The last six months, Smith has shot competitive rounds of 59, 60 and 61.
“I’ve had some pretty humbling times just to stay in this game,” said Smith, on the range before Tuesday’s practice round. “I had gone bust financially. [David] gave me an opportunity to get back in the game.”
In addition to mini-tour stops, Smith holds full status on the PGA Tour Canada.
This week he’s just a few quality rounds away from capturing America’s heartstrings in the country’s national championship.
“I think that’s the beauty of the actual tournament itself,” said Smith. “The U.S. Open is designed exactly for these opportunities. I think that’s what it is for the majority of people here. It’s an exciting time and exciting opportunity. I’m like a kid in a candy store.
“I’m preparing to play as well as I can and see what happens. I want to prepare as best as I can and learn as much as I can, too. These are the world’s best players. Any knowledge I can gain, any wisdom I can gain, I’m going to do my best to soak it all in.”
Smith starts his U.S. Open on No. 1 at 2:42 p.m. EDT Thursday. He’s paired with amateur Grayson Murray, of Raleigh, N.C., who recently transferred to UNC Greensboro, and NGA Pro Golf Tour’s Brandon Brown, of Shelbyville, Ky.
He played a Sunday practice round with Steve Stricker and headed out Tuesday with the power group of Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood.
“He’s been very calm for the circumstances,” said longtime friend and confidant Joe Horowitz while he watched Smith on the range. “Anyone who knows Jess knows this stage is not too big for him. Wherever he’s at, he’s the best athlete there.”
Smith, a New Hampshire native, preferred baseball over hockey growing up, despite being the son of Guy Smith, a professional hockey player with the New England Whalers. Guy Smith was a star at the University of New Hampshire and died at age 44. A few years later, at a Friends of New Hampshire Hockey event, Braden Houston, then the golf coach at Colgate, and a former college teammate of Guy’s, offered the younger Smith an opportunity to walk on to the golf team. He lettered for four years at Colgate, from 2000-03.
Smith is of Native-American heritage. He spends summers with extended family on the Six Nations reserve in Brantford, Ontario. Next week, he heads back North to Calgary for the next PGA Tour Canada stop.
Smith aspires one day to reach the PGA Tour, undeterred by his eight prior failed attempts.
This week, though, Smith, who says he “got the golf bug later on” in life, looks to “learn, gain confidence and have fun.”
Martin D. Emeno Jr. is the director of communications for the Golf Association of Philadelphia.