Sarah Jane Smith has not been having a very good season. From mid-April to mid-May, Smith missed five cuts in a row. But you’d never guess that watching her play Shoal Creek at the US Women’s Open.
The Australian shot 67 in the first round. In her first nine of the second round overnight, she made five birdies to turn in 31. She played the front nine, her second nine, in even-par to shoot another 67 and she’s currently leading by four shots over another Australian in Su Oh.
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko shot a five-over 77 that included just a solitary birdie to be four over and a stroke beyond the projected cut line when a weather delay hit Shoal Creek.
The sweet, mild-tempered, 33-year-old Smith was on no one’s radar heading into the Open. Her best finish this season was a T-26 at the Kia Classic. She has been on tour since 2006 but is yet to win. Yet, she’s in the middle of what could be a breakthrough. And it’s happening at one of the biggest events of the year.
There are two main things that Smith credits with her good play. One, she switched irons. Two, she changed her putting grip.
“I put some different clubs in for Hawaii and I really liked them. They were really good but I kind of rushed the process a little bit,” Smith said. “I tried to hit my full shots with the new clubs. I just felt so much better with my full shots but the golf course, I hit a lot of little shots. My little shots are going farther. I had no control.”
After struggling to adjust to the new clubs, she went home to get her old clubs at the beginning of May.
As for the putting, she went back to a conventional grip after having putted left-hand low for the past four or five years.
“I like to feel my right hand, which I like doing even with left-hand low,” said Smith. “But it felt like I wasn’t releasing the putter very well, so I went back to conventional and it’s felt a lot nicer.”
Smith also credits her coach, Sean Foley, who used to coach Tiger Woods, with helping her get her game in shape.
“I sent him a text message on Sunday [after I missed the cut at Kingsmill] and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,'” said Smith. “‘I’m playing well, and it’s just not sort of coming together.’ I said, ‘Is there a book or something I can read?’ He called me on Monday. And he’s like, ‘There is no book, you idiot. Keep showing up, it’s going to turn around.’ He just kind of set me straight.”
The afternoon wave still has to finish their second rounds, but it is not unlikely that Smith, ranked 97th in the world, could be sleeping on the lead at the US Women’s Open heading into the weekend. Also aiding her campaign is the knowledge that Shoal Creek is where another Queenslander, Wayne Grady, captured his Major championship title at the 1990 US PGA Championship.
— USGA (@USGA) June 1, 2018