It’s been 19 years since 47-year-old Chris Smith won a Web.com Tour event. Nineteen long, at times painful, life-changing years.
The 19 years were enough time for Smith to make it to the PGA Tour; enough time to win the Buick Classic in 2002; enough time to play in nine major championships, making the cut in six of those events. It was enough time for him to stumble back and forth between the PGA Tour and the Web.com Tour, the developmental tour for the PGA.
But it was during that time, on Father’s Day in 2009, when his wife, Beth, the mother of his children, was killed in a car accident. And from there, the rest of the 19 years was enough time for him to try to cope with the death of his wife and fail over and over again. It was enough time for him to see golf as an errand, then return to enjoying it again.
Smith quit golf briefly to become strictly a father after the accident, and has spent the next seven years shifting the emphasis from golf to his family.
“It’s a process,” Smith said. “You keep doing the things you need to do off the golf course, and you try to keep the right outlook, and try to keep what’s important in life in the center.”
Now, the clock on those 19 years and to win another Web.com tour event is still ticking. But two days into the Digital Ally Open in Overland Park, he’s at the top of the leader board, 13-under with a 65 and 64 in his first two days. The 64 on Friday was his best round on the Web.com Tour in over three years.
But even with the lead at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate, he’s still going through one of the most difficult years of his life.
He feels his game has been good in 2016 in 16 PGA and Web.com events, but he’s made the cut only once. Moreover, he’s struggled to keep his head above water emotionally and mentally, but he’s kept trying to put himself in a position where he’s comfortable on the golf course
“This year, it's been difficult, but I've tried to do that,” Smith said, before pausing for a moment. “But I feel like I’m learning a little bit more about myself the last couple of years.”
The biggest realization he’s come across in those 19 years is: “This isn’t life and death.”
Of course, he’d like to win the tournament. He would like to get back his PGA Tour full status that he had in years past. He’s got a long way to go to get there; he’s $113,000 out of winning a PGA Tour card, $46,000 out of making it to the Tour Championship, and he has six events left before that.
On Thursday, as he was tied for fifth, he got a phone call from his son, who caddied for him at some events this summer and is set to head off to college soon.
“Dad, I caddied for you two weeks ago, and you missed the cut! What’s the deal?” his son asked.
Smith joked back: “Maybe it was just your caddying.”
Now, more than winning or the tournaments themselves, he looks forward to the phone call from his kids at the end of a round. As he walked off the hole 9, his last hole of the day, with the tournament lead, he turned in his scorecard. He got a few congratulations, and did a couple of media spots.
As he walked away from the course, he slipped his hand in his pocket and reached for his phone.
“I haven’t looked at my phone yet, but I guarantee they’ve already called me today,” Smith said. “You go through all of this in life, and you end up with a house and a life and daughter in law school and a son in college and it’s just ...
“You realize what really is important.”
▪ South Korean Kyoung Hoon-Lee came into the day with the lead, and finished the day in second, 1 stroke behind Smith. He shot 4-under 67 with five birdies and one bogey on his last hole.
Bhavik Patel, who came into the day tied for the lead with Lee, bounced back from three bogeys on the front nine to shoot 1-under par on the day. Patel’s in an eight-way tie for ninth place.
▪ Web.com tour money leader Wesley Bryan came into the day tied for fifth, then shot 4-under with six birdies and two bogeys to jump to a six-way tie for third at 10-under 132.
If Bryan can win the Digital Ally Open, it’ll be his third tour win of the year, automatically punching his ticket to the PGA Tour.
▪ Former Blue Valley North golfer Harry Higgs shot 1-under 70 in his first round but had a 6-under 65 on Friday to make the cut.
It was the first time he’s ever made the cut in a Web.com Tour event. After two days, he’s tied for 28th place.