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April 21. 2013 1:29AM

NH Golf: Smith still chasing his dream at 33


 

The dream of making the PGA Tour lives on for Jesse Smith, 33, the former golfer, hockey and baseball player at Oyster River High School in Durham.

Shooting a 59 in a tournament will help keep thoughts of the big-time alive.

Smith fired the 11-under round last month in the first round of a Fore the Players tour event at the Dubsdread Golf Course in Orlando and earned himself a course record and a spot on the sports page next to the game's heaviest hitters.

The Bay Hill Invitational, an Arnold Palmer event, was in town the same week.

"The Orlando sports pages had a blurb on my 59 right next to the articles about Tiger and Phil Mickelson," Smith said with a laugh. "For one day, on a very small scale, I was right next to them. I'd certainly like to be playing in the same events as them one day

That's the goal: Has been for a while now.

Smith was about 12 when he picked up the game.

"I was teaching swimming at the Rochester Country Club and told him he could take swimming lessons or go play golf," said Lynn Smith, Jesse's mother.

He hit the links.

Smith kept playing multiple sports and his parents helped start a golf team at Oyster River.

His dad, Guy, a veterinarian and former University of New Hampshire hockey star, died of a heart attack at the age of 44 when Jesse was a sophomore.

Jesse did a post-graduate year at Northfield Mount Hermon in Massachusetts and then went to Colgate University where he walked onto the golf team.

Smith made a couple of All-Patriot League teams and was selected as Colgate's Most Valuable Player in 2002 and 2003.

He finished school and decided to give professional golf a shot. Michael and Mark Grondahl, the brothers who started Planet Fitness, helped him out financially at the start and various other friends in New Hampshire - including the Gray, Brady, Clement and Hirsch families - have pitched in through the years

"A lot of friends have supported me through the years and it's been very beneficial," Smith said. "There's been a lot of learning, a lot of ups and downs."

He drives a Camry with 225,000 miles on it and checks out of another winter apartment in Orlando this week to hit the road for events in Georgia and North Carolina and plans to stop for a bit in New Hampshire in late May on his way to the PGA of Canada tour, which he will play during the summer.

He has the struggling-young-golfer stories.

"Years ago, when we were really struggling, we'd stay three guys to a room and whoever shot the highest score had to sleep on the floor," Smith said. "It was a way to cut costs and kept you motivated. You didn't want to sleep on the floor."

It's not quite as bad now.

"But we're no staying at the Ritz," Smith said. "Let's put it that way."

He doesn't have a timetable for how long he'll stick with pro golf and is excited about how he's been playing in recent months and the events ahead, especially the PGA of Canada.

The top finishers there earn spots on the Web.Com tour, formerly the Nationwide tour and a step below the PGA, and he said that is a reasonable goal.

"I was pretty naïve when I started, but I knew it wasn't going to happen overnight," Smith said. "Ten years later, I'm still on the path. I'm 33 years old now and I've heard it for years... 'When are you going to get a real job and move on?' I do understand the reason people ask, but for me I think it's the beginning. In golf, 33 isn't that old and I've continued to improve. The last six months I've played the best golf I've ever played."

He had the 59 at Dubsdread, which dates to 1924 and bills itself as the oldest public layout in Florida, along with a 61 and a 60. Dubsdread measures 6,153 yards and Smith had to hold on tightly for his record.

"It's short, but it's difficult," he said. "It's very tight and there's a lot of trouble."

Smith shot 30 on the front and had six birdies on the back. The 18th is a reachable par 5 and he needed a par.

"It's a magical number in golf and I was trying not to feel the pressure, but I definitely felt it coming down the stretch," Smith said. "I was almost shaking on the last hole, to be honest. I definitely struggled to get in the house."

He got his par and his 59.

He continues to work on his consistency.

"I've proven to myself I can go low, but professional golf isn't about how good your good scores are," Smith said. "It's how good you are on your bad days. This year, my results have been a lot better than any other year. I'm excited."

The 59 came on March 20, day one of a two-day event at Dubsdread. The next day Smith cracked the head of his driver on his first tee shot. Playing without it, he shot a 74 and ended up second in the tournament by two strokes to Andy Pope, who went 63-68-131.

Pope won $1,100 for the win. Smith picked up a check for $600.


alessels@unionleader.com.


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