Smith aims to break through at Barracuda Championships

Scott Smith tees off during a practice round.

Scott Smith tees off during a practice round.

Scott Smith found the love of his life while he was in elementary school.

Growing up in Fallon, Smith had many dates and they continued to get more involved as he grew up and attended high school before landing a new home in Reno where he attended the University of Nevada. The intensity grew like a fiery passion after college when he moved to Las Vegas and then came back home in Reno.

His love is golf.

Whether it was helping shag golf balls, working the driving range or caddying, Smith found his calling when he picked up his first iron and belted the ball off the tee. Now, Smith gets his third attempt to crack the top tier of the standings of the Barracuda Championships when he tees off Thursday.

“I’ve been going to that tournament since I was a little kid,” said Smith, who made the cut in his second appearance in 2012. “I volunteered at the driving range. I envisioned myself as a kid playing in that tournament.”

Smith won the qualifier in May’s Reno Open to garner his third invitation to Reno’s only PGA Tour event at Montrêux Golf & Country Club Thursday through Sunday. After Friday, the field will be cut and the rest of the golfers will battle over the weekend with a lot on the line. Besides the $3.2 million purse, which includes a winning share of $576,000, a spot on the PGA Tour is available as well as an invite to the British Open.

Tee times were unavailable at press time.

“I’ve always had the drive to play,” Smith said. “I really don’t think people understand how fine of a line there is. I’ve never questioned what I had to do. I was a decent college player at Nevada. Playing on the PGA Tour is a dream and something I’ve tried to pursue. I’ve dedicated my time and energy to that.”

The Barracuda Championships also uses a modified scoring format, which benefits aggressive swingers, like Smith. Traditional scoring methods focus on golfers shooting for the lowest score but the objective in a Modified Stableford is to have the highest score. The number of points awarded on each hole is determined based on comparison of the number of strokes to par. For example, a double eagle counts as 8 points versus shooting for par is 0.

“I like the format. I think it can play to my advantage,” Smith said. “I think I can make a lot of birdies. It plays into the hands of those who make a lot of birdies. It rewards aggressive play. That’s my mindset. Go in and play smart and make as many birdies as possible.”

Smith knows the odds and what he needs to do to make the top 10. And momentum is on his side after he missed the cut in his first try and then survived to play two more rounds in 2012 and be invited to the U.S. Open in San Francisco.

“It’s hard to believe four years have gone by since I played in it,” said Smith, who was the individual medalist when Fallon won its first-ever golf state title in 2006. “I played OK in 2012 and made the cut and qualified for the Open that year. I feel like I’m a smarter and more mature player now.”

Since Smith qualified for the U.S. Open in San Francisco, he’s hit a dry spell. But it allowed Smith to reevaluate his game and focus more on the mental aspect. So far, it’s paid dividends this year as Smith’s feeling more confident with this year’s Reno tournament.

“It’s been a rough last few years. I’ve had some flashes of success,” said Smith, who makes a living off sponsorships and prize money. “It’s tested my patience. I feel like I have a little more experience and that leads to me being more mature and playing smarter.”

It helps Smith knows the course and has been visiting it since he has been little. He said a friend from Fallon is a member and has been taking him up to the course over the years. But Smith cautioned the course plays differently during tournaments.

“It plays faster and is harder,” Smith added. “The pins are in different locations. It’s nice to have a couple years under my belt. 2011 and 2012 will play a big role. I will look back at that with the knowledge and playing in those tournaments.”

The weather and elevation, though, could be to Smith’s benefit. Highs are expected to be near 100 throughout the tournament and the higher elevation tends to cause problems.

“A big part of why it plays tough is the guys who come off Tour aren’t used to the elevation,” Smith said. “It’s hard to adjust to the ball. The ball flies so far. You always hear that on the range from the caddies. They’ll take 10 percent off the shot. I could see why it plays tough. It’s hard to really dial in your yardages on your iron.”

Fortunately for Smith, time is on his side if he comes up short this weekend. Unlike other major pro sports where athletes’ careers start to fade when they hit 30, golf allows people like Smith the luxury of time. Some of the best don’t start peaking until their 40s or even 50s.

“It’s definitely a sport that you see older guys succeed at,” he said. “It’s not like basketball, baseball or football. I definitely have a few years in front of me. To know that you can compete at a high level in your 40s and even 50s, I have a lot of time left.”

But Smith knows what he needs to do and can’t let the outside elements dictate his game.

“This last year or so, (I) really started working on the mental side of the game,” Smith said. “It’s funny. There’s a lot of golf players out there and they say that golf’s 90 percent mental. I’ve been reading a lot of books. It changes your game. It helps carry yourself out there. I was playing good golf but felt like my mental game was strong. It kind of puts you at a certain ease. You play good golf when you have less stress.”

He’s a local guy looking to make it big and hopes this weekend is his chance to shine bright and surprise some golfers on the PGA Tour. Along with the British Open possibility, a top-10 finish qualifies Smith for a tournament in two weeks and he could golf on the tour as an exemption if not invited.

Smith will have many friends and family rooting him on this weekend, including his brother, Shane, who will caddy for him again.

“It’s nice to have a guy out there who knows his game, and he’s my brother,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a guy you can trust. I like the way we work together. It’s always a good time to have him on the bag.”

With a strong supporting cast rejoining Smith this weekend in his third attempt to break the mold, the Fallon native is hopeful this year’s date propels him to grander opportunities and fulfill his dream of making the PGA Tour.

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