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Golf: No subpar family

Golf: No subpar family

Golf: No subpar family

Golf major topic of conversation in Smith household

Dan McDonald

Mary Smith finally had enough.
She had listened to her husband Dennis and their sons talk golf for an hour and 20 minutes during a recent lunch.

"I had to get away from there," she said.

Such is life in the Smith household, and that’s not changing in the near future if dad and the boys have any say-so in the matter.
Of course, very few families can claim as much success in the sport.

Last weekend, father Dennis and sons Matt and Michael all made the 60-man cut in the Louisiana Golf Association’s State Amateur Championship, the state’s premier amateur event. The three had all qualified to play in the limited-field event in the past, but they’d never all made the cut for the final two rounds.

LGA officials believed that the weekend event at the Country Club of Louisiana was the first in the 87-year history of the event to have three family members all make the cut.

"It was a pretty special weekend," Dennis Smith said. "We’d all been in the tournament three or four times, but for all of us to play the whole way …"

The only better Father’s Day present would have been if younger son Petey had also been in the field. Petey, who’s signed a scholarship to join older brother Michael on the UL golf team, couldn’t play in the State Amateur qualifying round due to final exams at St. Thomas More.

"He’ll be there next year," Matt said.

And that will just make Dennis even more nervous.

"I was ready to give that tournament up and leave it for the young guys," he said. "The only reason I’m still playing in it is because of the boys and the chance to play in it with them."

It’s not like they don’t get that opportunity on a regular basis. All four are part of a regular Saturday game at Oakbourne. Oldest brother Denny, who wasn’t bitten quite as hard by the competitive golf bug, is also out there, but he’s playing with a different group of friends.

"We don’t go anywhere on vacations that they don’t allow fivesomes," Dennis said. "We have a great time playing together."

"Sometimes when I’m playing in college tournaments," said Michael, a junior-to-be on the Ragin’ Cajun squad, "one of the guys on other teams will have their dad there. I ask some of them how many times they get to watch them play, and it’s usually maybe once a year.

"That’s when I realize how lucky we are."

Dennis rarely misses a tournament, squeezing trips in between his duties as owner/president of Acadiana Bottling Co. He knows how important that is, since his father was one of the founding partners at Oakbourne and he grew up around competitive golf.

"It’s a sport that if you dad plays, you usually play," he said. "For so many years, golf was a sport for the affluent and fathers would pass the game on to their sons. Now it’s a lot more accessible to everyone, but you still see an awful lot of fathers and sons."

But there’s a difference in playing as a hobby and playing competitively ("Golf and competitive golf are two different games," Dennis said).

"It’s tough when you shoot even par and you get beat on family vacations," said Matt, who was an all-around athlete at STM and didn’t concentrate on golf until the other sports seasons were finished. "The great thing is we’re 52, 25, 20 and 17 years old and you never know who’s going to win. That’s the great thing about golf."

The competitiveness, even within the family, can make for some intense moments.

"I remember the first time Petey beat Michael in a tournament," Dennis said. "Dinner that evening was kind of tough."

The family passion is most visible in one room in their home, one that’s turned into their own club shop. That was a necessity in early years when youth clubs weren’t readily available, and Dennis worked on a set of cut-down clubs for Matt.

"I was always smaller, and I couldn’t really swing the cut-down ones," Matt said. "We ordered the clubheads and the shafts and built them to fit."

Those "Texas Classics" were passed down to Michael, whose early rounds weren’t promising.

"I shot 106-98 in my first tournament," he said. "That’s when mom found out how much golf balls cost."

Michael had put most of the balls he had into the water, and Mary was dispatched to the pro shop to get a sleeve so he could finish the round.

"They were about three bucks a ball there," Michael said. "She came back and told me if I hit these in the water I was going to be punished. I told her I wasn’t trying to hit them in."

"Everybody starts off like that in golf," Dennis said. "It’s such a difficult game."

Maybe that’s what makes golf such a passion in some families. The amount of time needed to reach a high skill level tends to bind family members.

It also creates common interests not shared by many fathers and sons. Dennis, Matt and Michael sat around a table at a recent lunch and seemingly went over every key shot each of them hit during the State Amateur, comparing notes with just a hint of one-upmanship.

"My granddad gave me a copy of Golf Digest this week," Matt said. "He said to read it and maybe it would help me beat my old man."

But the numbers aren’t as important on the scorecard as the names themselves, all of those Smiths listed in all of those results.

"It is really special," Dennis said. "I’m very lucky."

Originally published June 17, 2006