Nate Smith: “At Least I Finally Got Lei’d”
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Nate Smith: Left? Not again!

Rookie Nate Smith played in his first career PGA Tour event last week at the Sony Open. He fired five-under 65 in the opening round (mind you, he jumped off a cliff with a spear gun, trying to catch a fish just a day earlier). Because of the weather, Thursday’s first round was washed out and the guys played 36 holes on Sunday to finish the event. Nate shot 65-68-69-74 and placed T42. Check out his thoughts on the final day and his first tournament in the big league.

Sunday was a really long day, so I was happy when it was done. I didn’t get tired, but we played the first round and I had four minutes to get to the tee, so it was kind of an odd experience for your first PGA Tour event. I didn’t play great in the morning (third) round, but I managed to get under par (and shot 69).

After I ate a sandwich on the tee, I started the afternoon round. I made a bad triple bogey on the second hole. I think it was probably just the rust from the off-season. It’s a different environment, but I don’t think I was nervous — I just didn’t play well and it sucked.

I didn’t mind playing 36 holes because I did that in college a lot. I’m young and fit, so I figured it would be to my advantage, but it obviously didn’t work out that way. Maybe I need to put on a few pounds and get that 46-year-old beer gut going that some of these guys got. Maybe that will help me get around a little better in the afternoon round — maybe I just have too much energy!

Seriously speaking, I think mentally I wasn’t as prepared for the last round as I could have been. With the quick turnaround after the first 18, I didn’t have time to prepare myself and let my guard down a little bit. You just can’t afford to do that and so I will be more conscious of that next time. I checked out a couple of times, which isn’t something you normally do when you’ve been playing for a little while. I also caught myself playing faster than normal. Physically, I can tighten things up, too.

The triple-bogey near the start of the last round was really just the worst thing that could happen, but then I came back, kind of, and played well. I made a couple birdies, but when I got to No. 9,  I hit it into the left rough and then into the trees on the left. I made bogey and that kind of just put me over the edge. I fought to come back and then made another bogey. From there, it just got ugly.

I struggled with my driver. I hit it left the whole friggin’ tournament, so that thing is going to get broken. I had it in my bag for the first time this week because it’s just a little better — it carries higher and launches higher, but it has this tendency to go left. I’m sure we’ll figure out something this week and it won’t cost me as many strokes. I was going to break it, but then I was going to give it to a kid until I realized I probably can’t do that because it’s not even out yet.

My experience at the Sony Open was a good stepping stone for me as a rookie. I’m a perfectionist and I’m real hard on myself, so it was real difficult for me right after my round to reflect on it. I’m sure I’ll sit down, have a couple of beers, think about it and overall be somewhat pleased with how it turned out — not how the last round went, but the overall experience. Just being here and walking up the last green was pretty cool. I was like, how many people do you think are out here? There were definitely some of the biggest crowds I’ve played in front of. It was exciting and fun to be out there amongst the fans and hit some good shots.

I wasn’t really thinking of the money or my position. I kinda looked at the scoreboards a little bit to see where I was at and I saw myself sliding down and that sucked, so I tried not to look at them. But there’s nothing you can do when you start playing bad. That’s the worst thing about golf. No matter how hard you play, it’s still an impossible feeling to get used to because you feel that pit in the bottom of your stomach, feeling like you’re in a hole and the sand is coming down on you and you can’t get out. Sometimes you can turn it around, sometimes you can’t.

It’s just a lonely place to be out there. I was trying to keep things in perspective and remind myself, you’re playing on the PGA Tour and you’re in Hawaii; this is fun. But if you’re a perfectionist like I am, it doesn’t really matter sometimes where you are, what you’re doing, how fortunate you are — you still hate yourself.

But I’ve got some money on the list, so maybe it’ll help for the reshuffle, so it’s a good step in the right direction, especially coming out here as a rookie — you really have to play well in your first few events to kind of reshuffle up. I had a good opportunity on Sunday and I didn’t really take advantage of it. But it’s nice to know I can definitely play out in the bigs.

Your expectations are only really what position you put yourself in. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still a little bit of a disappointment. Just because I put myself in a good position, I did a lot of the hard work and I wasn’t able to finish it off. I mean, I guess it’s all relative. If I would have started crappy and came back with a few good rounds, including a good last round to shoot 4-under (for the tournament), then maybe you take away some positives from it, but being in the position I was and not being able to feel well that last day really kind of sucks.

At least I finally got lei’d. (After we finished the last hole on Sunday, a girl gave everyone leis.) Earlier this week, I was thinking, here I was in Hawaii and I didn’t even get lei’d.

Anyway, Chris DiMarco was super cool to play with (on Sunday). He didn’t have to be nice to me, but he was great — a true professional. He gave me help with some rulings, like when I didn’t know where I could drop my ball on the green from a sprinkler head.

I also learned there are lots of great stories out on Tour. Some are true and some are false, but nonetheless, they’re very entertaining. It’s funny to hear stories about people that you had one idea about from watching on TV and what you read and then hearing firsthand accounts about them. Some people are how you thought and others are surprisingly cooler — or not cooler.

Going into the Bob Hope Classic, I’ve looked back, assessed my performance and moved forward — that’s the only way to get better. I’m off to practice (and find a new driver). Here we go, another chance to play well!


(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)