Disclaimer: It took everything in me not to title this blog, “Kaufman without much to Smylie about”. But I digress.
Does this look like the face of a happy golfer?
Since finishing fourth last October at the Sanderson Farms Championship (not exactly a top-tier event), Kaufman has competed in 18 events on the PGA Tour. He has made one cut. He finished in 69th.
Whether through #SB2K, his ad deal with Natural Light beer, or his easygoing personality, the types of fans Kaufman has cultivated in recent years might consider that singular 69th place finish to be “nice.” But, aside from them… even his most ardent supporters cannot argue that things on the golf course are remotely nice, right now.
Looking at the stats just makes it worse. Of the six main strokes gained categories (off-the-tee, approach-the-green, around-the-green, putting, tee-to-green, and total), Smylie sits between 180th and 207th in all of them. His official world golf ranking has plummeted to 415th. FedEx Cup ranking? 189th.
Have we put too lofty of expectations on the 26-year-old? After all, not everyone can be Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, or Rickie Fowler. Even if they appear to be attached at the hip, Smylie was never one to dominate on the College golf circuit as his now-famous friends did.
Perhaps winning so early in his career has set him back; capturing the Shriners Hospitals for Children’s Open late in 2015, his fifth event as a PGA Tour pro? Yet, eight top-25 finishes in the 2016 season would seem to disprove that theory.
So, what could be the culprit for his lack of success?
In an article done after the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, where Smylie finished dead last in the field (or “DFL”, as the pros call it), he admitted to undergoing a swing change and struggling to get his range game to translate out onto the course. Okay, that’s fair.
Still, that doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s been three months and seven events since. He’s missed all seven cuts. Heading into this week’s Travelers Championship, Smylie has played 32 rounds of competitive golf on the PGA Tour this season. Number of times he has broken 70? Four. The number of times he has failed to break 80? Also four. Not ideal.
He does legitimately seem like a nice guy. I had personally witnessed him on the range last year at Glen Abbey, where the RBC Canadian Open was being played, and he was grinding harder than anyone I saw the entire week. No hyperbole or exaggeration, he was really getting after it. On the putting green, on the range, with drivers, with irons, you name it, he was practicing it. He even had his caddie walk out and place circular discs every 10 yards for about 100 yards on the range; working on distance control with his wedges. So, it’s clearly not a matter of lack of will nor lack of effort. And, as much as it’s not my style to write about how poorly a player is doing (okay, I did it once with Bubba Watson, but that was directly related to him missing cut after cut while using a pink or yellow golf ball), I’m genuinely both intrigued and concerned.
In fact, I was hoping that after only playing once in the last month, that Smylie would find his game at a bit of an easier track this week in Hartford at TPC River Highlands. So, imagine my dismay upon opening the PGA Tour app and scrolling down to see a seven-over 42 on the front nine. He would finish his round with a birdie for an opening 10-over 80, and sits two strokes back of second-last place. That’s 156th of 156. That cannot be an enjoyable way to make a living. Sure, he’s playing a professional sport, but he hasn’t earned a paycheck on the course since January. And that was for $11, 623. Even I’ve made more than that since January.
Let’s try to look on the bright side, shall we? He may not be in love with golf at the moment, but there is one longtime love that wont be leaving his side any time soon. The silver lining in all of this is that Smylie was married to Francie Harris, his high school sweetheart, in April. For some guys, that sense of peace and settling down to start a family, can be just what the doctor ordered. For others, not so much (this is a Tiger Woods reference).
Here’s hoping that whether its love at home, or carving out a new swing, Smylie can figure things out before the other love of his life, golf, just isn’t working out anymore.