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Golf: Lafayette native to compete in US Senior Amateur Championships

Dan McDonald, The Advertiser, Aug. 22, 2018

It’s his first time to participate in a national United States Golf Association event, but Dennis Smith still expects a lot of himself this weekend when he opens play in the U.S. Senior Amateur Championships.

“I’ve been able to play a lot and I’ve been really working on my game, which is something I haven’t done in years,” Smith said. “I wasn’t surprised that I played good in the qualifier. I had told my boys that I thought I was really close to playing some really good golf.”

That is exactly what Smith did in a July qualifier for the national tournament, when he shot a stellar six-under-par 66 at Le Triomphe to top a 19-player field and claim the one spot available. That put him into the 156-player field that will open play Saturday at the venerable Eugene Country Club course in Oregon.

The Lafayette native has attempted to qualify for the national seniors on only three other occasions since he past the mandatory 55-year-old age requirement.

“I never tried the Amateur or the Mid-Am,” he said. “Usually the qualifiers are out of town for a one-day qualifier and you have to drive. There was one at Oakbourne a few years ago but I didn’t get in, I did one in Houston and one in Hattiesburg.

“I just never did much with them, but this one was here and it made it easy for me.”

“Easy” pretty well described that qualifier for Smith, since he finished six shots ahead of his nearest competitor on a Le Triomphe course that was set up for the state Mid-Amateur a couple of days later.

He matched three-under 33’s on both sides with one eagle, five birdies and a lone bogey in his round. Two of those birdies came in the first six holes before play was suspended due to lightning, and he added two more birdies before bogeying the infamous “Gator’s Jaw” 13th hole.

Moments later, though, he chipped in from 20 feet for an eagle on the par-five 14th hole to get to five-under and all but lock up a qualifying spot. He had a birdie putt on the 18th for a 65, which would have put him near his best ever on that layout.

In the early days of Le Triomphe’s existence, Smith held the course record for a while with a 63 before the Web.com Tour brought a new level of professional talents to the course every spring at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open.

Smith's son Michael has been a regular in the Louisiana Open, making the cut a couple of times and having more than his share of excruciatingly close misses. Michael also played in the USGA’s premier event, the U.S. Open, at Congressional Country Club in 2011 after a stellar performance in a similar qualifier.

A total of 2,381 players attempted to qualify for the Senior Amateur at more than 50 qualifying spots around the country. The great majority of those locations qualified only one or two of the 133 players making their way into the field (23 players were exempt from qualifying due to finishes in other USGA events).

Among the participants is Buddy Alexander, the former LSU golf coach and the 1986 U.S. Amateur champion. He is one of 14 players in the field who have won a USGA national championship at some level, and is one of six players in the field who have played on Team USA in Walker Cup competition.

The 156-player field will play two practice rounds Thursday and Friday prior to 18-hole medal play rounds Saturday and Sunday. The top 64 players after Sunday’s second round will move into match-play competition that will continue through the Aug. 30 championship match.

“The first goal is to get through the medal play,” Smith said, “and I think I’m playing well enough to where I can do that. Once you get into match play, anything can happen.”

Smith’s entourage will only include his wife, Mary, and no other members of their golf-centered family. He thought about asking Michael, a playing professional who’s in a tournament in Lufkin, Texas, this week, to go as his caddie, but thought better of it.

“He’s on the road so much as it is,” Smith said. “He would have done it if I’d asked, but I couldn’t. That wouldn’t have been fair to him. I talked about some of the boys coming but it’s such a long way. Mary and I are going to go and enjoy it just the two of us. It’ll be all golf for me, and she may come out and watch a little. She hasn’t watched me play in 30 or 40 years, so I doubt she’ll be as nervous as when she watches Michael play.”

Caddies aren’t a big help in the Senior Amateur, anyway. Players may use electric carts, but if a player has a caddie, one of them has to walk at all times.

“It’s more of an aggravation,” he said. “You can’t assume that if you put in for a caddie that you’ll get someone who knows the course. You can use rangefinders so I’ll have yardages. I’ve looked at the course a lot online and seen the flyovers on every hole, and I’ll have the two practice rounds.”

Even without course knowledge, Smith may have a little advantage in the course layout. Eugene Country Club, which hosted the NCAA Championships in 2016, is tree-lined, much like his home Oakbourne course except that the fairways are lined with fir trees instead of oaks.

“You just keep it between the trees, just like Oakbourne,” he said. “I remember watching it (the NCAAs) on TV, and from what I can tell, it looks like a good course for me.”

Smith got in one last practice round at Oakbourne on Tuesday before an early-Wednesday departure. He’s one of only two Louisiana players in the field, joining Bart Dornier of Metairie. Dornier was co-medalist and claimed one of two qualifying spots last month in Valrico, Florida. Dornier competed in last year’s Senior Amateur and made the cut before being eliminated in the opening round of match play.

Smith is in the final group off the No. 10 tee Saturday, with a 2:05 p.m. PDT start. He’ll go out at 9 a.m. on Sunday in the second medal-play round.

“A lot of people around here know that I’m going out there to play,” he said. “I’ve been getting a lot of well-wishes from people that I’ve played with and people at the club. Golfers tend to follow each other when it comes to tournaments like this, so I really appreciate the support.”

BASEBALL TOURNEY: Oakbourne Country Club will host the UL baseball team’s annual fundraiser tournament Sept. 24. The four-person scramble sponsored by HomeBank and Wells Fargo Advisors will have a noon registration and a 1 p.m. shotgun start.

The $250 entry fee includes Adidas apparel and a Ragin’ Cajun hat and shirt along with lunch and other food and beverages, prizes on all par-threes and prizes to the top three teams. Team entry fee of $1,000 includes mulligans and other course extras, and sponsorships are available from $200 to $3,500 with the top sponsorships including a four-person team entry.

Registration deadline is Sept. 19, and more information is available from Danny Jones at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open at (337) 593-8000 or at djones@laopen.com.

SAVE THESE DATES: Several other events are scheduled in the near future. Save these dates for planning purposes:

» The City Championship is set for Oct. 6-7, with the first day at Hebert Municipal and the final day at The Wetlands. Information is available at any of the area’s three municipal courses.

» The annual Bill Bass Open, UL’s Homecoming golf tournament, is set for Oct. 12 at Les Vieux Chenes. The tournament is tentatively scheduled for a noon lunch and a 1 p.m. shotgun start, and entry forms and other information is available by calling (337) 857-8754 or by email at danmcdonald@cox.net.

» The organizing committee for the LHSAA State High School Golf Championships, which will be conducted for the fifth straight year in Acadiana next May, is planning a fundraiser tournament to help offset costs of conducting the state’s premier high school event. A unique “one-man scramble” is scheduled for Nov. 2 at Les Vieux Chenes. More information will be available soon.


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