Sarah Jane Smith is widely acclaimed as one of the nicest people on the women’s golf tours of the world. But what she has not been – at least until now – is a winner.
All of which might be about to change. The Australian, who spends her summers on the Sunshine Coast having grown up in Geelong, leads the biggest tournament in her sport, the US Women’s Open, by four shots through two rounds.
In 12 years and 222 starts on the LPGA Tour in America Smith, 33, has never won a single tournament, let alone a major worth $US 5 million and acknowledged this week by two-time winner Karrie Webb as “the ultimate in our sport”.
It is heady territory.
Smith, 33, has spent every year since 2006 playing at the top level and her results have improved. She is ranked 97th in the world and recently, she took up Tiger Woods’ old coach, Sean Foley as her mentor. But to this point her only two wins are on secondary tours in America a decade ago. She has never won on the LPGA Tour.
It reminds everyone of Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden, a veteran of the tour who was winless until she jumped up and won a major, the ANA Inspiration, earlier this year. As it happens, Lindberg and Smith are friends. “She works just about as hard as anybody out here,’’ said Smith. “To see that that hard work can pay off was – it’s nice to see. I was there when she won, but then like we text back and forth over the next few days.’’
Just recently, when Smith was going through a stretch of five missed cuts in six events, Lindberg reached out to her. “She sent me the nicest message I have gotten as a pick-me-up because I wasn’t going through the best times. She’s been a great friend. It was really nice to see her break through.’’
This week’s great form – back-to-back 67s to reach 10-under par at Shoal Creek Country Club in Alabama – has come out of the blue for Smith. She puts it down to a change of clubs, having returned to an old set for inspiration, and a tweak to her putting stroke. Having used left-hand-low grip for some years, she switched to the traditional method and has made everything this week.
A chat with Foley also helped. “I sent him a text message on Sunday and 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 always has a good thing to say to keep you on track.
“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 spends her Australian summers on the Sunshine Coast nowadays but grew up in Geelong, where she won an Australian junior championship as Sarah Jane Kenyon before marrying Duane Smith, who acts as her caddie. “Duane is probably one of calmest people I know, and I don’t get crazy out there,’’ she said. “I think between the two of us, we stay relatively calm generally.’’
Australians hold the top two spots on the leaderboard, with 22-year-old Melburnian Su Oh jumping up to second place at six under, tied with Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand. “Well, I haven’t been in the position before, I but I hope to show up like it’s another day,’’ said Smith.
“I’m happy with the way I’m playing. I feel comfortable on the greens which has been something that has been a little bit off lately. So it’s nice to be able to feel like I’m seeing the greens really well and seeing some putts go in. Hopefully that keeps going.’’