By Chris Dortch, Staff Writer
last updated 10/03/08 08:37 PM

Thomas Smith Leads TPC Qualifiers with 7-under 65

Chattanooga TPC Sponsors

In recent weeks, Thomas Smith’s golf game had slipped a far cry from its high point in 2006, when he shot 65 in the final round at Black Creek to claim the Tennessee Amateur.

So Smith, the former UTC player, did what a lot of local amateurs do when their game goes awry—he visited Council Fire director of golf Hunt Gilliland. It didn’t take Gilliland long to spot the problem.

“I was making a fake backswing,” Smith said, meaning he had gotten too hands-and-arms conscious and wasn’t making a full turn. “Hunt told me to get more athletic. He told me to imagine making a swing with a baseball bat. It’s the same swing, basically, as the golf swing, only on a different plane.”

Gilliland’s astute observation paid immediate dividends for Smith, and proof of that came in stroke play qualifying for the Chattanooga TPC. Smith shot 7-under-par 65, his lowest competitive round since he roared back to win the state amateur more than two years ago. Things must have gone pretty well to elicit this response from the soft-spoken Smith:

“This was probably the best ball-striking round I’ve ever had,” he said.

Pure it was. Smith hit 17 greens in regulation and made just one mistake all day when he tried to follow playing partner Derek Rende, the UTC player who’s nasty long with his driver, and blow his tee shot over the water at the par-5 13th. He didn’t quite make it, but the miscue hardly hurt him.

By that time, Smith already had a 4-under-par 32 front nine on the books with birdies at Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 9. After his bogey at 13, Smith rallied with consecutive birdies at a couple of holes that aren’t supposed to be that easy. He hit a pitching wedge to about a foot at No. 15 and a 9-iron to six feet at No. 16.

Smith finished his fine round with an eagle at the par-5 18th.

Smith, who will play John Lambert in the first round of match play on Friday, has long considered taking his game to a higher level, and the next few weeks will affect his plans. He’d love to get some momentum by beating a seven-year No. 1 seed-jinx in the TPC and winning the tournament. Actually, getting past the first round will be a rarity; since 2001, only one No. 1 seed, Pat Corey in 2005, has won his first match. The rest were all bounced out of the tournament by the No. 16 seed.

Smith, who will play in the Tennessee Mid-Amateur next week, plans on trying to qualify for the Nationwide Tour’s Chattanooga Classic.

“If I do that, I’ll turn pro,” Smith said.

If not, Smith will wait until the spring. He’s got the financial backing he’ll need for a go at the Hooters Tour. “I’m going to give it two years, maybe three, and see where I’m at after that,” Smith said.

Whatever happens, Smith won’t go hungry. He majored in management and finance at UTC and has already done some work for Chattanooga businessman John Thornton.

“I’ve got something to fall back on,” Smith said. “But first I want to see what I can do with golf.”

 Thursday’s Scores

Stroke Play Qualifying

65-Thomas Smith

70-Tom Schreiner

72-Tripp Harris

73-Sam Bedwell, Mike Feher.

74-Derek Rende, Tom Baird, Matt Hadden, Caleb Roberson, Josh Lawson.

75-Mitch Hufstetler, Ryan Hulton, Matt Mathis, Walt Moffit, Pat Corey.

77-Brian Kopet, John Lambert.

78-Jimmy Watkins, John Felker.

79-Todd Moreland, Mike Craig, Ronnie Law.

80-Mike Jenkins.

81-Rick Donnahoo.

82-Benjamin Thomas.

90-Greg Ehmig, David McKenna.


Friday’s Matches

No. 1 Thomas Smith vs. No. 16 John Lambert

No. 2 Tom Schreiner vs. No. 15 Pat Corey

No. 3 Tripp Harris vs. No. 14 Walt Moffit

No. 4 Sam Bedwell vs. No. 13 Ryan Hulton

No. 5 Mike Feher vs. No. 12 Mitch Hufstetler

No. 6 Derek Rende vs. No. 11 Matt Mathis

No. 7 Tom Baird vs. No. 10 Matt Hadden

No. 8 Josh Lawson vs. No. 9 Caleb Roberson


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