There are lots of people who say that they grew up on the golf course, but Kate Smith, a senior on the Nebraska women’s golf team, actually did.
Smith is from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and her family owned and ran a small nine-hole golf course. They lived in a home on the property from when she was 10 months old until she was 16.
“I learned how to change cups and mow greens. It was really fun to grow up on the course,” Smith said.
Her parents sold the course several years ago, and now work at a different course.
Smith is now one of the most successful players in the history of the Husker women’s program, and it was how she grew up that helped her become the player and person she is. She learned a lot about hard work and setbacks. Running a successful business in golf can be tough, especially in Minnesota, where snow covers the course for several months.
The family lived in a building on the property. In the home there was a bell when guests entered the pro shop.
“We had an intercom in our living room so when somebody came in the door we could hear it, and one of us would run out and help the customer, and then we’d go back and cook dinner,” Smith said.
Smith was also fortunate to have an older brother, Karter, who played, and helped her when her parents were busy running the course. Karter also played college golf, at Drake.
“The reason I’m the golfer I am today is because my brother, he would always have me play with him and practice with him,” Kate Smith said. “We’d go out and play nine holes with just one club, or we’d chip after dinner. He always got me into the game and challenged me. We were always outside and on the golf course. It was a fortunate way to grow up. I don’t know if it was always the easiest on our family as a whole, but we’re really happy that we did it.”
Smith would play from the longer men’s tees, which also benefited her. She’d even get to play when her brothers’ friends were at the course.
“He always had so much respect for me, and never treated me as a little girl, and knew that I could play with him and his friends and compete just as well,” Smith said.
That helped prepare her for a great high school playing career. In Minnesota you can compete on the high school team beginning in seventh grade. Playing in the second-largest division, Smith finished fifth at state as a seventh grader, and then won state each of the next five years.
Smith owns several Nebraska program records, including season stroke average (72.18) and 18-hole score (64).
For this season, which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith earned first-team all-Big Ten honors and won the award for the best stroke average relative to par in the conference.
Smith was ranked No. 101 in the country when the season ended, which means she was on pace to qualify for one of the three NCAA regional tournaments.
At regionals she would have attempted to be the first Husker golfer to qualify for nationals since 2006. Smith qualified for regionals as a freshman in 2017, and is one of just two Huskers to make regionals in the past 11 years.
Smith has decided that she’ll return to Nebraska for a second senior season, taking an advantage of an NCAA waiver for spring sport athletes who had their senior seasons cut short by the pandemic.
She had planned to continue to play golf at the professional level, but feels like another year at Nebraska with the coaching and resources would benefit her.
When she returns next season, Smith hopes to win a tournament, either as a team or individual, and become an All-American. Nebraska hasn’t had an All-American since Sarah Sasse in 2003.
Smith was in Arizona on the course for a practice round the day before a tournament when the season was canceled. That’s how she thought her college career would end, until the announcement came that athletes may be able to get another senior season.
“I know the world doesn’t revolve around college athletics, but as a student-athlete, your world kind of revolves around the NCAA,” Smith said. “So when that happened, that was huge. And it’s really a blessing that Nebraska decided to fund it. It’s a real gift to seniors that are coming back.”
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