Pay­ing dues never easy

Young golfer knows hard work is never pain­less

The Covington News - - SPORTS -

My gen­er­a­tion re­mem­bers when a four-man pop mu­sic group call­ing them­selves The Bea­tles burst upon Amer­ica’s rock-and-roll scene in the early 1960’s. To­day’s gen­er­a­tion watches co­me­dian David Let­ter­man’s late night talk show, hosted from the very same stage of The Ed Sul­li­van Theater. Hard to be­lieve that it’s been nearly half a cen­tury ago, on a Sun­day evening, since the real Ed Sul­li­van hosted The Bea­tles there on his variety show.

To­day’s world is a dif­fer- ent one, in­deed, but amaz­ing as to­day may seem, The Bea­tles brought real magic with them from Eng­land. The mu­sic world changed the night John, Paul, Ge­orge and Ringo showed up in New York City.

Years later the drum­mer, Ringo Starr, was fea­tured singing “It Don’t Come Easy,” a song about lay­ing the ground­work and pre­par­ing prop­erly for things to come. And the lyric says: “You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues, and you know it don’t come easy.”

You know, even as the world changes, some things re­main con­stant. If you want to make it in the world to­day, you still have to pay your dues. Now, I’ll be the first to ad­mit that the way you “got to pay your dues” has changed in many, many ways. But the bot­tom line re­mains that if you want to catch some magic, you have to pay the price, pure and sim­ple. And, no, it don’t come easy. This brings me, af­ter la­bo­ri­ous pref­ace, to the sub­ject of to­day’s ram­ble: Tay­lor Smith, a se­nior over at East­side High, a young­ster who knows about pay­ing dues. The young man has been found on golf cour­ses for more than half of his 17 years, chas­ing his dream to play col­lege golf and to even­tu­ally join the PGA as a tour pro­fes­sional.

Last week found Smith at the River Cut Golf Club in Spring­field, Mo., play­ing in the Bass Pro Shop/Payne Ste­wart Amer­i­can Ju­nior Golf Cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment. It’s the most pres­ti­gious tour­ney hosted by the Amer­i­can Ju­nior Golf As­so­ci­a­tion; par­tic­i­pa­tion is lim­ited to those who have qual­i­fied through other tour­na­ments. Tay­lor ven­tured out there hop­ing to cap a great sum­mer of golf with a cham­pi­onship.

But at that rar­i­fied level, you see, ev­ery­body’s good. And any tiny dif­fer­ence at all can be the de­ter­min­ing fac­tor mak­ing the crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion be­tween who wins a hole, or the tour­na­ment, and who goes home and won­ders what went wrong. And, no, it don’t come easy. Tay­lor Smith has learned, sim­i­larly, that the hoops you have to jump through and the dues you have to pay in or­der to chase your dream are cor­po­rately etched in stone in the world of golf. His love for the

game, his de­sire to play at the high­est level he can at­tain, and the fact that he’s blessed with a sup­port­ive and lov­ing fam­ily all have com­bined to take him this far this soon.

Tay­lor Smith has been play­ing golf very nearly his whole life. He played his first tour­na­ment at the age of eight, when most kids are just get­ting around to us­ing two-syl­la­ble words.

As in the world of mu­sic, in or­der to move for­ward in golf you need a pro­fes­sional in­struc­tor. For years, Smith’s tu­tor has been Ray Cutright, cer­ti­fied by the PGA as a mas­ter pro­fes­sional, and based out of Ma­con’s Idle Hour Learn­ing Cen­ter. That amounts to a lot of travel time to Ma­con over the years, but then again, pay­ing dues is never easy.

Pay­ing those dues this sum­mer alone found Smith play­ing in six ju­nior tour­na­ments, one U. S. ju­nior qual­i­fier tour­na­ment, one state ama­teur qual­i­fier tour­na­ment, and the AJGA cham­pi­onship tour­ney in Mis­souri.

Tay­lor’s con­sis­tent per­for­mance on the links has caused South­ern Mis­sis­sippi to ex­press in­ter­est in hav­ing him hit ‘em long and straight in Hat­ties­burg. And al­though Smith’s dad, Johnny, once kicked foot­balls for Ge­or­gia Tech, there’s no heat on Tay­lor to play his col­le­giate golf as a Yel­low Jacket.

But speak­ing of heat, last week in Mis­souri Smith had to bat­tle not only the best of his peers on the golf course, but also record-break­ing tem­per­a­tures. The PGA Cham­pi­onship, won by Tiger Woods, was held less than an hour away at the South­ern Hills Club, and the heat was so bad that the PGA al­lowed cad­dies to work sans their iden­ti­fy­ing bibs, to try and help them deal with the heat.

“I couldn’t be­lieve the pros were com­plain­ing,” said Smith. “I mean, they don’t even carry their own clubs!”

Smith loves ama­teur golf, and has de­signs on play­ing in the Pub­lic Links Ama­teur and the U. S. Ama­teur Cham­pi­onships. The rea­son: the win­ner gets to play in The Masters on Au­gusta Na­tional. And that’s some­thing this small town boy would ab­so­lutely love to do, and to share with his fam­ily.

Smith’s par­ents, Johnny and Judy, and his younger sis­ter, Mag­gie, have been his nearcon­stant com­pan­ions at most of the dues-pay­ing sta­tions he’s vis­ited over the years.

“And it’s funny, that over the years, I’ve met maybe two other guys who I’d con­sider al­most nor­mal,” said Smith. “But one is a mem­ber at Au­gusta Na­tional and the other at Pine Val­ley.”

“As for me?” he asked with a smile, “I be­long to the Mon­roe Golf and Coun­try Club. All the other kids go to exclusive schools, and we’re like the only mid­dle class fam­ily at the tour­neys.”

And so it goes. The young man fol­lows his dream, pas- sion­ate about get­ting to the high­est level he can at­tain. And he knows well the dif­fer­ence be­tween pay­ing your dues to climb that lad­der ver­sus stand­ing pat with the hand you’re dealt.

“Well, I can go out to The Oaks and shoot 69 any day, but in a tour­na­ment there are no mul­li­gans or re-do’s,” he said. “If I make a bo­gey in high school, I can make two birdies and still win. But in tour­na­ment play, if I make a bo­gey I just gave roughly 200 kids a chance to fin­ish ahead of me.”

Smith’s sum­mer-long gaunt­let of tour­na­ments left him pleased with what he’d done, but a lit­tle down fol­low­ing Mis­souri.

“I had a re­ally good sum­mer, over­all,” he said. “I played those eight tour­na­ments, and did re­ally well in seven. Nor­mally if you have only one bad tour­ney, it’s OK. But I just hate that my one bad out­ing was the last one, in the Ju­nior Cham­pi­onship.”

Tay­lor has some ad­vice for young­sters who want to reach the high­est level of golf.

“Prac­tice hard, and play as many tour­na­ments as you can.”

Tay­lor Smith has found that in the world of com­pet­i­tive golf, you have no friends out there on the tour. Ev­ery golfer has to go it alone - and there is no quar­ter, no mercy given.

And when you’re pay­ing dues to try and catch the dream, you know it don’t come easy.

Sub­mit­ted photo

Tee­ing off: East­side High School stu­dent Tay­lor Smith tees off at the River Cut Golf Club in Spring­field, Mo., play­ing in the Bass Pro Shop/Payne Ste­wart Amer­i­can Ju­nior Golf Cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment.

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