by Rick Price, PGA
The opportunity to play in a PGA TOUR event as a PGA club professional is usually a chance of a life time; however, for Brandon Smith, Head Golf Professional from Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club it will probably not be his last experience.
Each year the winner of Southwest Section PGA Championship receives a sponsor’s exception into the PGA TOURS’ Waste Management Phoenix Open, which is provided by the Thunderbirds organization that coordinates the event with the TOUR.
Last years Section Champion Brandon Smith teed it up in this year’s 2011 Waste Management Phoenix Open with high hopes of making the cut and cashing in on some of the $6.1 million dollar purse.
Smith, excited to play in his first PGA TOUR event, prepared his game for this highest level of competition. He truly expected to play well and even contend. Smith said, “You never know how many chances you get, I wanted to win. Maybe that wasn’t realistic, but that was my mindset.“
As a rookie, open qualifier or sponsor invitee, you will usually be in one of the first starting times or the last to start in the opening rounds. So, when a freakish cold front came sweeping through the Valley of the Sun canceling the Pro-Am on Wednesday and delaying the start of the first round until noon, it forced Smith’s starting time, “which was the last of the day” — so late into the afternoon that he only played two holes.
Consequently, Smith played the weekend, however it was only due to the weather delays. This means he unfortunately missed the 36 hole cut and missed out on that big pay day. He did get paired with rookie Tommy “two gloves” Gainey the leader after the first two rounds, who went on to nearly win the tournament until a disastrous triple bogey on the 71st hole.
Smith said, “The players don’t get enough praise for how good their short games are. Tee to green it’s impressive, but nothing compares to how good they are around the greens and they make a lot of putts.”
It was great week for Smith with his brother caddying for him, with friends and family following him hole by hole. Also, his teacher, friend and fellow PGA professional John Basden was on hand to monitor his swing. Basden, the two time winner of the Southern Chapter Southwest Section PGA Teacher of the Year, is an instructor at Ventana Canyon and works with Smith on his game. Basden said, “It was a great experience for me and I am proud of how Brandon played. He hit the ball well; it was just hard to adjust to the quicker speed of the greens affecting his pace on his short game and putts.”
The famous Par 3 16th hole that draws so much attention around the golfing world for its rowdy reputation and the hundreds of thousands of fans that attend the tournament during the week had Smith saying, “I’ve never had more fun in my life on the golf course than playing the 16th hole. Strangely enough, the more noise there was, the more I was able to focus and I ended up hitting a couple of good shots. My brother and I had a great time with the crowd, with the caddy races and the tip of the cap and all. I got a few boos when I came through the tunnel with my UofA hat on, but that’s what I was hoping would happen.”
Overall, I didn’t really feel any pressure, Smith stated. He mentioned “it wasn’t like the golfing world was expecting me to do anything. I don’t think I put any more pressure on myself than I normally would, in fact, maybe less. Knowing that my livelihood wasn’t on the line took some of the edge off.”