Stuart Smith describes his day on top of the leaderboard at the Senior PGA Championship
Stuart Smith, the PGA Director of Golf at Somersett Golf & Country Club, shocked the golf world last month when he landed on top of the leaderboard after Day 1 at the Senior PGA Championship. It was a momentous moment for Stuart, the country club and Somersett in general, as Stuart’s success thrust the community into the national spotlight. Stuart talks about that memorable day, his love of golf, and his favorite hole at the Championship course in this Q&A:
Why Somersett? It was a big decision for my wife Cecile and I to leave the Rocklin/Roseville area. I was well established at Granite Bay Golf Club – starting there prior to its opening in 1993 and working my way up to lead the golf operation as Head Golf Professional in 1998. In golf, you never know when opportunities will arise and at the urging of John Stebbins, who was with East West Partners (the company managing all of Somersett at the time) I drove up to meet Blake Smith. The decision was made quickly and I was offered the head golf professional position and started in April 2007. As for the Why? We loved the community and the thought of getting our boys engaged in winter sports was exciting. The outdoor lifestyle suited us. The golf course was fabulous and we were welcomed with open arms by the membership. A perfect match!
Originally from? I am originally from just over the hill in Rocklin, Calif. My parents moved there from Los Angeles in 1966 wanting to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city. It just so happened there was a new golf course there and a home located on the 15th hole came available. My love affair with golf began there.
You recently stunned the golf world by topping the leaderboard after Day 1 in the Senior PGA Championship, shooting five under par. Tell us about that experience. First, I was grateful and proud to have qualified for my fourth Senior PGA Championship, representing Somersett, Reno and The PGA of America. It is an annual privilege for 35 PGA club professionals from across the country to compete with the best of the best. We earn those spots by competing in our 72-hole PGA Senior National Club Professional Championship held late in the prior year and finishing in the top 35 of the 276 participants.
This was my third time playing at Harbor Shores Golf Club in Benton Harbor, Mich. Although I get limited playing and practice time in comparison to Champions tour players, I was playing well heading into the event. I like the golf course and it suits my game. In my two prior times there I survived the 36-hole cut and played the weekend – the goal for most of us club professionals.
I teed off early on my first round – 7:40 am on hole #1. It is always comforting to have familiar faces rooting you on. My son Jordan caddying and eight Somersett G&CC Members and residents were in tow. Curtis Chan and Marina Kitamura were attending their fourth Senior PGA with me while Gary and Cheryl Fisher, Ron and Carol Zarcone, and Steve and Lori Bigham were there with me for the first time. My preference is always to play early – I am a morning guy. A nice start with an early birdie on #2 set things going the right direction. To be on the house’s money early is always a great stress reliever. Hole #7, situated just off Lake Michigan with a treacherous elevated green, is perhaps one of the hardest holes on the course. A great 5-iron approach set me up for my second birdie. Following were four more birdies in a row all set up by good wedge shots and converted short putts. I have had five birdies in a row before but not often. Every hole from then on showed my name on the leaderboard which was exciting. Picking up another birdie at the tough 13th put me at seven under for the day. By far and above a spectacular day to this point. The only blemish was a bad double bogey on the 18th where I tried to get a little cute with a pitch shot after hitting up against the screen guarding the bleachers. Still a 5 under 66 – a great day!
I was whisked from the scorer’s tent to the Media room where I was introduced to four television cameras and 16-20 inquisitive reporters interested in who I was. A half-hour later I was live on the Golf Channel. My motto has always been “ice cream tastes better on Saturday,” meaning I survived the 36-hole cut. Now I can say that ice cream tastes superb as a first-round leader. I am the first club pro to lead or co-lead in the last 15 years.
Friday was the exact opposite as nothing went my way. I shot the highest nine-hole score I can remember – 45. I settled down playing the last five holes one under par but too much damage was already done and I finished with an 83 and my first missed cut at Harbor Shores. Still a great week. If I had to endure Friday to experience Thursday it was all worth it!
Have people been treating you differently since then? I have received many congratulations for the great day but I don’t think people have treated me any different. I have always had the support of the membership and my peers and most importantly my family. I haven’t let a round of golf go to my head nor have I hung my head from Friday.
Why do you love golf? I love the beauty of the golf course. I love that you are always controlling your own destiny – the ball is always in your hands. You can strive for perfection, but it has yet to be reached. It has been said that you can just borrow good golf for a while. I have been so lucky to play all over the world and experience so many things. Since I started playing at the age of 3, I have not known life without golf.
Which is your favorite hole on the Championship course? I have always been challenged by our Signature 5th hole. I anticipate the drive off of the elevated tee a couple holes before I get there well aware of what awaits. The par 5 is beautiful with its elevated tee, double water hazard and panoramic view. After negotiating the water hazards a difficult green lurks. All pars are a great score here.
Favorite activities (other than golf): Family, skiing, outdoors.