Son of University Advancement Employee Played U.S. Open
Jesse Smith and Tiger Woods at the US Open. Courtesy photo.
Parental pride. It’s almost a DNA thing; something that becomes part of a new parent’s marrow so that our children don’t actually have to even do anything to make chests swell.
But when they do do something—especially when it’s something really great that took years to achieve--well, that pride is amped up to a whole other level.
Take Jesse Smith, a professional golfer who earned a spot in this year’s US Open after 10 years of playing in the minor leagues; a young man who had game but needed a little more to take it to the next level. And then did. It was enough to make a grown anyone cry.
For mom Lynn Smith, assistant director of alumni engagement, it was enough to know he had never stopped trying.
Golfer Jesse Smith. Courtesy photo.
“He’s already won, just by being here,” she was quoted as saying as she trailed her son around the course at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn. last month.
At 33, Jesse Smith was a surprise first-timer at the Open. Newspaper articles referred to him as the golfer-on-the-rise; the late bloomer. The surprise to those who know the Barrington native is that he excelled in golf rather than baseball, his standout sport in high school, or, hockey like his father, the late Guy Smith, who played at UNH.
“If anything, I would have thought Jesse would have played professional baseball,” Lynn Smith says. “He was really good in high school. He did play golf but baseball was his game.”
Smith started playing golf when his mother was the pool manager at the Rochester Country Club. She was the one who gave swim lessons and told him he could take lessons from her or play golf.
When he got to Oyster River High School, Lynn and Guy Smith helped launch the school’s golf team. But Jesse Smith didn’t really settle into the sport until he got to Colgate University. The coach there was UNH alum and former hockey player Brad Houston ’66. A large contingency from Colgate at the US Open, cheering Smith on.
UNH hockey coach Dick Umile, a longtime friend of Jesse Smith’s father, and former teammate John Gray, also traveled to Pennsylvania to support Smith and his mother. Jesse Smith’s sister, Jaime, flew in from Oregon.
“There was so much support,” Lynn Smith says. “Everyone was so excited for him. A lot of people came down; close friends, college friends, childhood friends.
“Jesse was really the unknown; everyone was talking about him. I was pretending I didn’t know who he was so I could hear what they were saying,” she says with a laugh.
Jesse Smith and Tiger Woods at the US Open. Courtesy photo. “He got to play a practice round with Tiger Woods, and he just stayed so calm. Jesse has a perfect temperament for golf. He has a really good attitude.”
Smith also had practice rounds with PGA pros Steve Strickler and Josh Teater. Photos of him and the pros were “all over the United States Golf Association website,” Lynn Smith says.
“I’d look, and there was Jesse,” she says. “It was a pretty wild ride.”
And while he didn’t make it to the next round, playing at the US Open has created opportunities that didn’t exist before. Smith will continue to play on the Canadian PGA tour, honing his skills. He has a new swing coach, and, in the fall will go back to qualifying school, a very competitive process used annually to qualify golfers for tournaments. If he makes it through, he will earn a "tour card" allowing play in PGA tour events without having to qualify.
“I’m really proud of how Jesse carried himself; how he handled himself. And I’m proud that, through good times and bad, he has stuck with his dream, Lynn Smith says. “We all know he can play. He’s been on the world stage now and we all know that’s where he belongs.