Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Golfer, family mending emotionally, starting to ease way back into game

About 9:30 p.m. Saturday, the night after the Beth Smith Memorial Golf Tournament, I wanted to give Chris Smith a call to let him know what the preliminary numbers looked like for the fundraiser that we conducted at The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin.
A few minutes after leaving a voice mail on his cell phone, I got a call back from Chris.
"Sorry I missed your call. I just finished my fifth load of laundry, and I was upstairs in Abigail's room when the phone rang. I still have a lot more laundry to do," he said with a laugh.
Two months ago, Chris Smith would not have figured he would be at home doing laundry on a Saturday night in early August. Chris' wife, Beth, tragically lost her life in a Father's Day auto accident, and their children, Abigail and Cameron, were critically injured.
The primary purpose of Friday's golf tournament was to raise money and help the Smith family resume some semblance of a normal life.
Smith has been forced to set his career as a professional golfer aside. He now is a single parent without a job raising two kids who have a long recovery ahead.
Preliminary indications are that the first Beth Smith Memorial Tournament raised about $150,000 for Smith and his kids. The success of this event can be attributed to the 288 players who participated and the efforts of many around the United States.
"There is no way I can express how I feel. This whole thing has been remarkable. It's been incredible and extraordinary," Chris Smith said. "The support from so many people here in Indiana and from around the country has been overwhelming.
"Just to get back out on the golf course and laugh, to resume some type of normalcy in our lives, was what (Friday) meant to Abigail, Cameron and myself," Smith added. "Driving golf carts and seeing so many people. I tried to say it Friday night, but the support of the entire golf community has been unbelievable. I wish there was some way to thank every single person who was involved."
Smith started playing professionally at the tour level in 1995. Since that time, he has had full-time status on the PGA Tour nine times. Smith won the Buick Classic in 2002 at the Westchester Country Club in New York. The past two years he has played on the Nationwide Tour after seeing his status on the PGA Tour be conditional.
"The past couple of years, I have felt like I was in golf's no man's land," he said. "I had made a lot of friends on the PGA Tour, and that is what I thought I would always be doing. All of a sudden, I am playing on the Nationwide Tour with a lot of younger kids and foreign players who I really don't know.
"My friends were on the PGA Tour. I lost touch with a lot of them, and sometimes I felt like I was a forgotten person. Then (Beth's accident) happens, and you find out how many friends you really have. Everybody has reached out, and it's been unbelievable.
"The letters and handwritten notes that I have received are what has gotten me through this. About a week after the accident, Tom Watson sent me a full-page handwritten letter. We had worked some clinics together, but I never expected that kind of support from people like Tom."
Smith has not watched golf since June 21.
"I have not watched golf one time," he said. "I have pulled up some scores on the Internet to see how some of my friends are playing. Positively, that will change this week with the PGA Championship. The PGA and the British Open are my two favorite tournaments, and I love Hazeltine Golf Club.
"The PGA Championship always has the strongest field. It is the best course setup we play all year. The tournament is always at great venues, and the PGA runs the best events in professional golf. The players and their families really love the PGA Championship."
I could feel the spark in Chris' voice as he talked about golf. Asked when he might start playing again? At least, there is now light at the end of the tunnel.
"The kids want me to play again. I definitely want to, but there is no way that will happen before next summer," Smith predicted.
"Abigail and Cameron face obstacles physically and emotionally. I need to be here. If they have a good school year, then the three of us will load up and I will play in three to five tournaments next summer and see how it goes. Hopefully, I will play a lot in 2011 before Abigail goes to college."
When he does head back out, Smith will be granted a full-time medical exemption from the Nationwide Tour and will have conditional status on the PGA Tour as a former winner and veteran player.
Once the kids start back to school, Smith plans to spend at least an hour a day working on his game.
"That's my goal," he said. "Hitting balls and practicing frees up my mind. I look forward to playing in the Wednesday men's club (at Rock Hollow Golf Course in Peru, Ind.). It will be good to get back on the course."
The Smith kids are a chip off the old block when it comes to golf.
"The three of us actually went out on the course (Saturday night). Abigail drove the cart right up next to the green so Cameron could chip and putt," Smith said.
Friday's event was the first Beth Smith Memorial Tournament. What does that mean for next year?
"I would like to see this thing keep going," Chris Smith said. "Now that we are back on our feet as a family, I would like to help some people that helped us. The children's burn unit at the hospital was great, and that would be one example.
"(Tour player) Jay Delsing left me a message during the tournament on Friday, and he said, 'You have to do that again next year.' He wants to be here, and I think some of the Tour players would be happy to help out."
Another week lies ahead for Chris, Abigail and Cameron. Maybe this one will offer a few more opportunities to laugh.
It sounds like golf will be easing its way back into their lives. And while things will never be normal in the true sense of the word for this family, there has to be some strength gained over the past few weeks knowing that the entire golf community was there to help.
And help it did, in more ways than you can imagine.
Ted Bishop is director of golf for The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin and secretary for the PGA of America.

No comments:

Post a Comment