Chris Smith: Peru’s Professional At Life

It’s a privilege to write as a correspondent for the Peru Tribune.  The biggest reason – the people I meet and write about.  Chris Smith, PGA Golf Professional, is one of those people. His story is a great one and I wanted to share.   The following is the profile published in the paper on August 27, 2015.

“Chris Smith: Peru’s Professional At Life”

Peru Tribune – August 27, 2015 by Christopher L. Johnson

 

He’s got the look.  Pressed shorts, fitted golf shirt with sponsor’s logos, golf hat with the brim bent just right, fashionable sunglasses flipped upside down lying on the bill.  His smile flashes when he interacts with members.  It’s the look of a golf professional; not the kind standing behind the counter at the local pro shop.  He’s the kind we watch on television on Sunday afternoons with guys named Woods, Nicklaus and Spieth. 

That’s him – glamorous lifestyle, private jet planes, million dollar sponsorships with Rolex and Nike and an easy life.  After all, he’s a golf professional, right?  It’s got to be nothing more than the lifestyle of the rich and famous, even if he is living here in Peru.  Not quite! 

Chris Smith 012 He’s had one career tour victory.  He’s had his moment raising a trophy and cashing a winner’s check.  It is all the steps on and off the course from the age of 5 when he took up the game until that victory in 2002 and all the steps since which have really matter in deciding if he is a winner, a professional, a success.

Chris Smith is not defined by his PGA (Professional Golf Association) card, but by his journey over twenty-something years on the tour.

His story is proof the heart of a golfer is not determined by the number of victories, but the number of triumphs over defeat.  It’s not the character of a golfer which is shown by handling diversity on the course, but it is revealed in how he survives tragedy in life.  The determination of a golfer is not proven by the numbers of hours he spends on the practice range, but his relentless pursuit of practicing life better day after day.

Chris Smith was an All-State golf standout at Rochester High School.  He was an NCAA All-American golfer playing for Ohio State University.  He stood on a stage with a guy named Phil Mickelson and another guy named David Duval and received his award from a legend named Howard Cosell at a black tie dinner held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

He still remembers one of the speakers that night talking about the odds against an All-American ever winning one of golf’s four major championships.  Sitting there in New York, as a confident, maybe cocky, 21-year old, Smith thought, “He’s not talking about me.  I’m going to win, and win a lot.”  Mickelson and Duval have won six major championships combined; Smith’s best finish in a major – a tie for 27th in the 2002 PGA Championship.  So, he’s a failure, right?  Not even close. 

He’s still ranked in the top one hundredth of one percent of all the golfers in the world.   Nothing really went wrong.  His game didn’t fall apart.  He had just moved from being the best amateur golfer on one of the best collegiate golf programs in America to being one of hundreds of the best professional golfers, who played in front of thousands while millions watched at home.    

Now, everything is different.  At 46 years-old, he found the secret to his swing and has won every tournament he played in this past year.  He’s won millions.  He travels in luxury.  People can’t wait for his autograph.  Not quite!

He played well in some of the twelve tournaments he played this year.  He collected a few checks.  Unfortunately, he’s played poorly more often.  When he did, he didn’t get paid a dime.  For the last several years, his winnings each year have barely, if at all, covered his expenses of playing.  That doesn’t include paying for a home, college educations and the things we all pay for it back home in Indiana. 

Rock Hollow 021But, life is different; the tour is different; he’s different.  Just ask him.  Today, Chris Smith is in a new place.  He continues on a sixteen month journey of discovery – spiritually, emotionally, mentally, personally.  He is in a place where winning every day doesn’t depend on the scorecard he signs on the tour.

A tragic accident in 2009 took his wife and critically injured both his children.  The wheels came off his golf cart, so to speak, with one phone call.   Everything which had been there in his life as a rock disappeared.  As well as anyone could expect, he handled it all; but not really.  He was haunted by bigger questions than “How did you play today?” or “Should I hit a 5-iron or the 4-iron?” 

He tried to find a balance between the game he loved and the children he loved more.  Golf was all he had known for years.  It didn’t seem to matter, anymore.  For three or four years after, he had no business on the course – “I knew I wasn’t going to play well each weekend.  I didn’t want to be there.  I wanted to be home with the kids, but I had never known anything, else.  I felt guilty on the tour and off the course.  And, I hit some very, very dark places in my life.”

A year and a half ago, he started to find answers.  There were those in found playing golf and talking with his father.  Others he found sitting at his home looking out over Rock Hollow.  Some he found while sitting in his pickup in the old rock quarry across the road from the course.  New and old friendships brought more answers.  All of them came from within his heart, soul and mind and a newly discovered relationship with God.

He appreciates things more than ever.  He savors things he used to ignore or take for granted.  He drinks his morning coffee every day while he writes a list of “Joys” and “Appreciations” while sitting in some secluded spot.  “It may take 10 minutes.  It might take two hours, but it is a part of every day.” 

Journaling has become such a part of his day, he had a 2:45 am wake-up call recently while playing in an event in Reno, Nevada.  He’d been given a 7:11 a.m. tee off time and journaling, reading his Bible and praying were as much a part of his routine as the driving range and the practice green.  He couldn’t be ready to play unless he got up in the middle of the night to get himself ready to play.  There is no doubt he means it when he says, “I rarely go anywhere without my backpack with my journal, a book or two I’m reading and my Bible.”

Now, on tour, he still gets advice from his caddy about a distance or the right club to hit.  The best advice he gets is from people like his best friend, Chris Carpenter, formerly of Smith’s favorite team – the St.  Louis Cardinals.  When Carpenter sees Smith struggling, he doesn’t yell “Concentrate!” or “Come on, man!”   The two Chris’ meet along the ropes separating spectators from the professionals and Carpenter asks, “Do you hear the birds singing?” 

It’s a reminder to appreciate all of the circumstances and find joy in all the events which led to the moment walking down the fairway.

His passion has always been golf.  You can see it in his eyes when he talks about it.  Now, his kids, Abigail and Cameron, are grown, graduated from or enrolled in college.  He seems to want another chance to compete.  He’s ready to go back to the less than glamorous traveling of professional golf.  He seems to miss a new city every six days, airports, rental cars, fast food, lost luggage and laundromats, “so I have clean clothes out there.”  

Chris Smith seems to know who he is and who he is becoming.  Some of the answers came from his golf game, both good and bad.  Some of the answers will go back into making his game as good as it has ever been.  Most importantly, he knows his purpose may include playing golf on tour, but it is not determined by the score he shoots. 

He’ll play more tournaments next year.  Starting September 10th in Ft. Wayne, Smith will be playing in four, four-day tournaments across the country.  Together, the four tournaments will reward low-scoring players with PGA cards and Web.com Tour cards for next year.  

If he wins one of those cards starting with his play in September, we’ll see him playing more on Sundays.  We’ll be sitting at home watching the guy from right here in Peru, who hears the birds singing instead of the applause, as he is walking up the 18th fairway and tapping in a birdie putt for the win.

He’s already winning at life.  He’s already won over adversity and dark days.  There is no reason to think winning on tour isn’t next.

 

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