Kristie Smith shot her third-consecutive bogeyless round on Sunday at the Tate & Lyle Players Championship to clinch her second-career Symetra Tour victory. Smith carded three birdies on both the front and back nine en route to a three-stroke win over Lousiville, Ky., native Leah Wigger. Smith’s final-round 6-under par 66 was her lowest score of the weekend and helped her tie the 54-hole tournament record of 13-under 203 (par 72). Wigger carded two birdies on both the front and back nines with her lone bogey of the day coming on the par 4 No. 3.
Smith had the most pressure from Wigger throughout the round but started pulling away after No. 11
“It was a little pressure coming into the back nine,” said Smith. “Leah kept putting a little bit of pressure on me. I knew I had the one shot lead and knew if I could get a few birdies coming in I’d feel a lot more comfortable.”
Wigger birdied the par 5 No. 11 to get within one shot of Smith but didn’t get another until the 18th, when it was too late. Smith rattled off back-to-back birdies on Nos. 14 & 15 and sank a 15-foot putt on No. 18 to seal the deal. She said staying in the moment was critical in finishing out the way she did.
“I tried to stay in the moment,” said Smith. “I get so fired up in front sometimes. And in the past I either get so far behind I just give up or I get far in front of myself I’m thinking about results. Today I was able to just stay in the present. I knew she was one shot behind me but staying in the present was big and making solid shots down the stretch.”
Just three months ago Kristie Smith was debating whether to continue her career as a professional golfer. Disappointed that she had not made it to the LPGA Tour in three years, the Perth, Australia native even looked into universities back home to continue her education and went the longest time in her life without picking up a club.
“I worked out a lot,” said Smith. “I didn’t touch a golf club for at least a month and a half. Kind of looked into schooling back home at universities and speaking to my mind coach Sean Lynch.”
Smith credits Lynch for helping her gain any confidence she could find and to get enough motivation to get back to the game.
“He’s been amazing and has helped a lot,” said Smith. “He works with a lot of guys on Tour and I’m his only girl so I feel pretty special in that sort of sense. I pretty much owe it to him for trying to get me back out here and get firing again. This win is huge; it’s given me a lot more belief. I’m ready to come out firing.”
Smith sports a tattoo on her left wrist with the word “believe” in cursive.
“I came here to the States with my family and friends for about six weeks and didn’t play a lot of golf,” said Smith of her off season. “I really struggled at the start of this year on whether I really wanted to do this. I’ve been struggling a little bit with belief. Sort of tossing up whether I’m doing the right thing or if I should go back to school, that kind of thing.”
Now with her confidence at an all-time high, Smith is looking forward to getting a few more wins this season to solidify a Tour card, something she’s been eyeing her entire career. When asked which win was bigger for her, without hesitation said today’s win means much more.
“This one, definitely this one,” said Smith. “The other one, I was full of confidence and having a couple good years in Europe. I sort of hit my wall about a year ago so this is definitely bigger than that.”
The Tate & Lyle Players Championship was just Smith’s third start of the season. With a top-10 finish last week in Iowa and a bogeyless win this week, she’s in great position to make a run in 2012 and reach her ultimate goal of making her way onto the LPGA.
Smith made the jump of the week in the Race, moving from No. 62 to No. 5 in the standings after receiving her $15,000 winner’s check on Sunday. She said this win was bigger than her first one in 2010 and that she’s looking forward to more wins down the stretch to earn her one of the 10 awarded LPGA Cards.
“This is huge for me,” said Smith. “This is really big and telling me I still got it. And to go and get that card this year.”
Smith’s confidence is at an all-time high after her win and truly thinks she has what it takes at this point in her career to make the jump to the LPGA and succeed at the higher level.
“I’ve been to LPGA Q School now four times,” said Smith. “And I feel like I’m definitely a player that should be out there and it’s been a bit bumming I guess when I haven’t got out there yet three or four years into my professional tour now. That’s why I’m here committing to this Tour because I believe that my consistency will pay off.”
With her name now on the top-10 in contention for the card, Smith says it doesn’t add any pressure, but gives her the extra boost in knowing she belongs there.
“I thrive off of that,” said Smith. “It definitely gives a lot more confidence. My goal with my team and my mind coach was to come out here and win three times. I’ve done that once and I’d like to do it a couple more times and get back home.”