THE Smiths

Sarah-Jane Smith and her hus­band/cad­die Duane have spent 12 years to­gether on the LPGA tour. Will they fi­nally break into the win­ner’s cir­cle when the Women’s Bri­tish Open re­turns to Royal Lytham & St Annes this month?

Golf Australia - - PREVIEW - WORDS MICHAEL JONES PHOTOGRAPHY GETTY IMAGES

When Sarah-Jane Smith shot to the lead at the US Women’s Open a few months back, in­ter­na­tional me­dia out­lets were rush­ing to learn what­ever they could about the 33-year-old Queens­lan­der.

That’s not to say they didn’t al­ready know who she was. The World No.97 had played on the LPGA Tour since 2006 and made 222 starts. But she had only posted eight top-10s and had never claimed a ti­tle – so her story was sel­dom told.

On May 31 at Shoal Creek, how­ever, Smith had given them some­thing big to re­port; she had shot a five-un­der-par 67 and was co-lead­ing the old­est ma­jor cham­pi­onship in women’s golf.

The fol­low­ing day, Smith fired an­other 67 and would even­tu­ally own a three-stroke lead head­ing into the week­end. De­spite the enor­mity of the oc­ca­sion, she felt calm and told re­porters: “I haven’t been in the po­si­tion be­fore, but I hope to show up like it’s just an­other day.”

Smith, who grew up in Gee­long, had been en­dur­ing a frus­trat­ing sea­son and had missed the cut at five of her past six events. But the de­ci­sion to switch back to an older set of clubs – and some words of wis­dom from her in­struc­tor, Sean Fo­ley, was clearly pay­ing div­i­dends.

“I sent (Sean) a text mes­sage on Sun­day and

THERE HAVE BEEN A FEW POINTS WHERE WE HAD A NIL BANK BAL­ANCE AND WE WERE STAY­ING IN SOME QUES­TION­ABLE PARTS OF TOWN TO SAVE MONEY. – SARAH-JANE SMITH

I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m do­ing. I’m play­ing well, and it’s just not sort of com­ing to­gether’. I said, ‘Is there a book or some­thing I can read?’ He called me on Mon­day and he’s like, ‘there is no book, you id­iot. Keep show­ing up, it’s go­ing to turn around’. He just kind of set me straight,” Smith said.

An­other pro­tag­o­nist to this story is Duane Smith, who mar­ried Sarah-Jane in 2009 and has cad­died for her ever since she turned pro­fes­sional in 2004. The cou­ple met 21 years ago on the Sun­shine Coast dur­ing their les­sons with PGA pro Peter Heiniger. But it took seven years (and the Queens­land Mixed Four­somes Cham­pi­onship) for the pair to ac­tu­ally sum­mon the courage to speak to one an­other – and they have been in­sep­a­ra­ble ever since.

“There have been times we’ve talked about it (end­ing the on-course re­la­tion­ship),” Smith said. “When you’re strug­gling, some­times fresh eyes and ideas can make a huge di–er­ence. But when it came to ask­ing some­one else, I just didn’t feel it was some­thing I wanted. I’ve played my whole pro­fes­sional ca­reer with Duane by my side and there’s such a com­fort to that. I would feel like part of me was miss­ing out there with­out him.”

Duane echoed those thoughts: “For the most part we do a good job of keep­ing it pro­fes­sional on the golf course. Of course we have bad days but we’re very lucky that we can do it and that it works. I love work­ing to­gether and that it’s just been us our en­tire ca­reer and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made by learn­ing along the way to­gether.”

The pas­sion they have for each other, and for the game of golf, is ev­i­dent in both of their voices – so it must have been dis­ap­point­ing when Sarah-Jane shot week­end scores of 74 and 78 to slip back into a share of fifth at the US Open. Nev­er­the­less, the Smiths took the re­sult in their stride and chose to fo­cus on the pos­i­tives in­stead.

“It was such an un­usual week, it felt like two di–er­ent tour­na­ments,” Smith said. “The first two days I felt un­der the radar, then Satur­day I felt like I hit the ball well but the nerves showed them­selves on the greens. Sun­day was ob­vi­ously dis­ap­point­ing but then to have a good re­sult, it was a bit of a weird feel­ing. I was dis­ap­pointed but happy.”

Smith used a sim­i­lar tone when asked to de­scribe her pro­fes­sional ca­reer, which has in­volved plenty of hard work and ul­ti­mately epit­o­mises the term ‘jour­ney­woman’.

“It’s def­i­nitely been up and down,” Smith said. “There have been a few points where we had a nil bank bal­ance and we were stay­ing in some ques­tion­able parts of town to save money. But they are some of our best mem­o­ries.

“The fact that Duane and I have done it to­gether from the be­gin­ning makes the lows eas­ier and the highs that much sweeter.”

One re­cent high was mak­ing the Aus­tralian team for this year’s In­ter­na­tional Crown, which will be played at the Jack Nick­laus Golf Club in Korea this Oc­to­ber. But for now, Smith has her eyes firmly fixed on the task that awaits her at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

“I love the chal­lenge of the Bri­tish Open,”

Smith said. “It’s prob­a­bly the only event of the year that if it rains side­ways and is cold, it’s okay, it’s part of the ex­pe­ri­ence and in a strange way makes it feel more like the Bri­tish Open.”

Smith missed the cut at Kings­barns last year. But she fin­ished with a share of 17th at the cham­pi­onship in 2016 and has been the high­estfin­ish­ing Aus­tralian at the past two ma­jors: T5 (US Women’s Open) and T11 ( Women’s PGA Cham­pi­onship).

The a’able veteran cred­its her im­pres­sive per­for­mances to an im­prove­ment in her short game and a key piece of tech­nol­ogy.

“This year we made the de­ci­sion to get a FlightS­cope,” Smith said. “I don’t use it much for my long game, but it has made my wedge game one of the strong­est parts of my game, which might have been the weak­est this time last year.”

The re­cent suc­cess Smith has en­joyed could eas­ily be at­trib­uted to the ad­vice of Fo­ley, her change of clubs or the em­ploy­ment of FlightS­cope. But should she fi­nally break into the win­ner’s cir­cle at the Women’s Bri­tish Open, you can guar­an­tee she will point to the one con­stant of her pro­fes­sional ca­reer – her hus­band and cad­die, Duane.

“I think we’ve been able to make our on-course re­la­tion­ship work be­cause we bal­ance each other out,” Smith said. “It’s def­i­nitely not al­ways easy but I’m proud of the fact we work to­gether and what we have achieved to­gether as a team.”

Duane and Sarah-Jane have been in­seper­a­ble since she turned pro in 2004.

Smith says she loves the chal­lenge the Women’s Bri­tish Open presents.

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