By Lee Davis
The official record will say that Smylie Kaufman of Vestavia Hills, Ala., shot a two-day total of 149 to miss the 36-hole cut in the 2014 United States Open Golf Championship.
But the official record won’t say that Kaufman, a recent graduate of Louisiana State University, had the experience of a lifetime.
“It was just awesome,” said Kaufman, also a graduate of Vestavia Hills, when contacted early last week. “Getting to play at the Open was one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me. I learned so much that will make me a better player in the future.”
Kaufman shot rounds of 73 and 76 to miss the cut by four strokes but came away as a huge fan of the Pinehurst No. 2 course in North Carolina, which hosted the Open.
“It was a course set up for my game,” he said. “I drove the ball really well and hit it solidly off the tee. My short game is supposed to be my strength, and it sort of let me down. And I never really felt in control on the greens. That said, Pinehurst was a great test of golf, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing it.”
As was the case with all Open competitors, Kaufman played several practice rounds on the course prior to the tournament’s beginning. The practice paid off, but not in a way he expected.
“The running joke of the week was that the course was tougher in the practice rounds than in the actual tournament,” he said. “That gave me an appreciation of the things the USGA (United States Golf Association, which runs the Open) can do to change a course. It was a good lesson in how to transition your game for what may be coming.”
Kaufman said rookie jitters or so-called “butterflies” were rarely a factor.
“I teed off on the 10th hole, so it wasn’t as crowded as it would have been at the first tee,” he said. “The only time I got a little nervous was, when I crossed the path to go to a new hole, it felt like there were a zillion people in the crowd. That was an adjustment. I had played in front of crowds before, but nothing like the U.S. Open. But most of the time, I was thinking about what I needed to do for my next shot.”
While naturally disappointed to miss the cut, Kaufman said coming so close was bittersweet.
“It was frustrating to know that I was in a position to get to play Saturday and Sunday but fell short,” he said. “If I had it to do over, I would have made some different choices about shot selection. Choosing the right shot for the right situation can make a lot of difference. But it’s all part of the learning curve, and it was an honor just to be in contention for two days.”
As June gives way to July, Kaufman isn’t taking any breaks from the sport he loves. He’ll spend most of his Mondays in qualifying rounds for tournaments.
“The experience at Pinehurst makes me want to go back (to the Open),” he said. “And the bid to get there starts over every week.”
And with one U.S. Open appearance already under his belt, expect Kaufman to be making a return engagement soon.