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Golf: Smith following early path of previous locals

Dan McDonald • dmcdonald@theadvertiser.com • July 2, 2008  

Some of the Acadiana area’s top success stories in professional golf had that success early in their careers. 

Rayne native and former UL standout Mike Heinen won on the PGA Tour in only his 10th start, capturing the Shell Houston Open.

Lafayette native and ex-ESA standout Kris Cox was one stroke away from winning the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, his home tournament, not long after turning pro. Another former Ragin’ Cajun star, Craig Perks, wasn’t on the PGA Tour that long before he won one of the most prestigious titles in golf in The Players Championship.

But it’s a pretty good bet that none of those three, or maybe any other Lafayette area pro, won a professional tournament in his second attempt, less than a month after officially declaring himself a professional.

That’s what Michael Smith did two weeks ago when he won the River Plantation Open in Conroe, Texas. The Lafayette native recently finished his collegiate career at UL and was making his second start on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series in the Conroe meet after finishing tied for 15th in his debut on that tour two weeks earlier.

The 22-year-old Smith had shot four straight sub-par rounds in that event, the Merrill Lynch Open played at the University Club in Baton Rouge (71-67-71-70-279) in pocketing a $1,336 check, but his performance in the River Plantation meet was even more impressive.

Smith posted a 68-74-69-66-277 score, 11-under-par, to win the $75,000 event and its $15,000 first prize, only a few weeks after earning his final All-Sun Belt Conference honor for the Ragin’ Cajuns. His opening-round 68 over the River Plantation Country Club course had him two shots out of the lead, and he was six behind front-running Brad Besler of Blessing, Texas, going into Sunday’s final 18 holes.

But Besler imploded in the final round with two double-bogeys on the way to a four-over 76, and Smith caught fire with six birdies and no bogeys in his final trip.

The last of those birdies came on the par-five 18th hole and gave him a one-stroke win over Dawie Van der Walt of South Africa and Beaumont, Texas, Brian Rowell – also of Lafayette – and Michael Brice of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Smith has only played in two of the Adams Golf Pro Tour’s seven events this year, but his two finishes already have him seventh on the tour’s money list – a list that Baton Rouge product and current PGA Tour player Scott Sterling led in 2006. He has a total of 31 birdies in those two events.

The Adams tour returns to action July 10-13 in the Rising Star Open at the Texarkana Golf Ranch in Texarkana, Texas.