Former Golf: Another agonizingly close finish for Lafayette’s Michael Smith
BROUSSARD – Dena vu is defined as a feeling of having already experienced a situation.But look up déjà vu in a dictionary, and you might see Michael Smith’s picture.
The Lafayette product once again experienced heartbreak at his hometown tournament, missing the cut by one shot at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open.
“This tournament’s got my number,” said Smith after a second straight even-par 71 Friday left him at 142 for the tournament, one short of the cut line of 141. “I wish I could figure it out. It’s frustrating that I can’t seem to play my best golf here, and it’s been far from that the last two days. Pretty ugly for me, actually.”Smith is in his 10th straight year in the field for the $550,000 Web.com Tour event, all on a sponsor exemption. But this year, he already held conditional status on the Web.com Tour courtesy of making it to the final stage of “Q-School” in December. Making the cut at the Louisiana Open would have helped him get into future tournaments after the Tour’s reshuffle two events from now.
Instead, he came up one stroke short of the cutline for the fifth time since his first Open appearance in 2009. He made the cut twice, in 2010 and 2015, and in both 2016 and 2017 he had stellar second rounds to come up tantalizingly close. He had a three-under 68 in his second round in 2016 and a stellar five-under second round last year, but missed by one stroke both times. He also had a second-round 66 in 2013, only to come up one short.“I am so thankful to everybody for giving me the opportunity to play here,” he said. “One more putt here, a little bit of luck there, but that’s golf.”
Smith made Friday’s turn in two-under, birdieing the par-four second and the par-four ninth holes. But his drive on the difficult par-four 13th hole, aptly named “Gator’s Jaw,” caught the water on the right side, and he wound up with a double-bogey.Another bogey at the par-four 15th hole appeared to put him out of the picture, but he ran in a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-three 16th. He had perfectly placed drives on each of the final two holes but didn’t get lob wedges close enough for birdie putts.
“It was a big mess, but it’s a hell of a hard hole today. It’s playing really tough,” Smith said of the 13th. “Fifteen was the one that really hurt. The last four holes are straight downwind, to play them even par, you have to do better than that. Especially where I was on 17 and 18, I was in perfect spots and didn’t hit it close.”BETTER FOR BRAME: Things were a little better for other players with Louisiana ties, especially for Hammond’s Grady Brame, Jr. Playing in his first-ever Web.com Tour event, Brame forged his way among the leaders going into the weekend’s final two rounds, standing tied for 11th at five-under 137.
It could have been even better, had the two-time State Amateur champion not missed several makeable putts down the stretch. Brame missed birdie putts of six feet or less on the par-five fifth and seventh and the par-three sixth in between, and then three-putted his final hole at the par-four ninth for double-bogey.I really struggled with the putter on the front nine, our last nine,” he said. “It wouldn’t have taken much for me to be around the lead, around 10 under. It’s frustrating, but we still have two more days to go. I’m playing good golf and I’m excited to be in this position, it’s a good position to be in, but again I left a lot out there.”
Brame put up birdies on the par-four 15th and 17th holes after starting with a birdie at the 10th, and was three under for the day after a birdie at the par-five first hole. After that, even with the balky putter, the 2017 regular on the MacKenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada kept giving himself opportunities.“I responded with good shots, just couldn’t get the putter rolling,” he said.
One of Brame’s State Amateur titles came at the Open’s home Le Triomphe course, but Brame said the 7,061-yard layout is very different and much more difficult from when he won in 2014.“The state am was much closer to summer so it was a lot softer,” he said, “and we obviously didn’t play all the way back as we are now. But off the tees it’s very familiar. It’s definitely an advantage to have played it.”
ROWELL RALLIES: Lafayette’s Brian Rowell had put himself in solid position to play the weekend in Thursday’s three-under 68 opening round, and an early eagle on the par-five 7th hole all but assured him making the cut.After missing the cut in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017, Rowell put up a couple of birdies and eagled the par-five seventh hole on his way to a one-under 70 that left him at four-under 138.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “I was happy with the way I lag putted, because I didn’t have my best stuff ball striking. I popped one up, I hit a snap hook. But it’s nice to be able to free up tomorrow and hopefully make a bunch of birdies for my friends and family. I’m really happy with today with the conditions, the wind and the greens because they’re super fast right now.” Rowell’s eagle was also an adventure after he hit what he called his best drive of the day.“I got a terrible kick, straight left and I thought it might have been in the water,” he said. “But I hit it so good it was way down there and under a tree. I hit a punch shot and ran it up to about 20 feet and made the putt. Turns out I needed it, because I don’t think I hit another good shot until number 15. For an hour and a half I was fighting my swing.”
BURNS, TOO: Shreveport product and former LSU All-American Sam Burns also had a late-round rally birdieing three of his final four holes on his way to a second straight two-under 69 score. He matched Rowell’s tie for 18th at 138 after a five-birdie, two-bogey round, one of them coming on his wrapup ninth hole after he birdied three in a row.
Burns played in front of one of the day’s biggest galleries, including several friends from Baton Rouge and some members of the LSU team.“It’s really cool, nice that these guys are out here supporting me,” he said. You want to play well in front of people that come out to watch you, so at times when it’s not going well it’s tough because you want it a little more than usual. But it’s also nice when you get it going to have them rooting for you.”
OTHER NOTABLES: 2013 Chitimacha Louisiana Open champion Edward Loar, the only former winner in the field, missed the cut by one shot with a second-round 72 and an even-par 142 score through two rounds. Loar had three birdies and four bogeys on Friday, birdieing the par-three 17th to get inside the cut line but bogeying the 18th hole. All of the five earlier winners on the Web.com Tour this year made the cut for the weekend. Topping that list is South Korean Sungjae Im, playing his last tournament as a teenager (he turns 20 next week) and the leading money winner on Tour. Im, who won The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic to open the season, had an even-par 71 and is tied for ninth at six-under 136.Martin Trainer, who won the Tour’s last stop at the El Bosque Mexico Championship, rallied back after two double-bogeys left him three-over through 12 holes. He birdied three of his final five to finish even par and stands at four-under 138.
Scott Langley, winner at the Panama Championship, followed his opening 71 with a two-under 69 and is at two-under 140 after three birdies on the front side. Adam Svensson, winner at The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic, struggled to a 77 after an opening 63 and is at two-under 140.
Former LSU standout and NCAA individual champion Ben Taylor, who won the Club Colombia Championship in February, came back from a one-over 72 on Thursday and shot a bogey-free two-under 69 in the second round to make the cut on the number.STATS: Le Triomphe played more than a stroke higher Friday than in Thursday’s opening round, with the stroke average at 71.50 after a 70.44 average on Thursday. There were 12 eagles and 483 birdies for the day compared with 17 and 535 on Thursday.
The par-four 13th and 14th holes, which ranked as the toughest back-to-back holes on the entire Web.com Tour last year, were particularly brutal on Friday. The “Gator’s Jaw” 13th averaged 4.639 for the field, the toughest hole on Tour so far this year, and that average would have ranked as the second-toughest on the Tour for the entire 2017 season.
The 14th wasn’t much easier, averaging 4.472 for the field, and the two holes combined to surrender 14 birdies compared with 93 bogeys and 36 double-bogeys or worse. The par-five 7th hole was the easiest on the course at only 4.368, a lower stroke average than the two par-fours.TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE (events at Le Triomphe unless otherwise indicated)
Saturday, March 24 Championship Third Round, 7:30 a.m.
Sunday, March 25 Championship Final Round, 7:30 a.m.
Trophy and check presentations, 18th green following final round