Driving for the Record Books
by Jackie Jenson
Photography by Thru Him Photography
When you think of golf, you think names such as Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson. Better get ready to add another name to that list: Kate Smith. On the Detroit Lakes Varsity Girls Golf team since she was in seventh grade, Kate Smith has been a top flight golfer in Minnesota and across the country for a while now.
Living on a golf course from before she could walk, Smith has been practicing her golf prowess for most of her life. Although this particular chapter of her life has recently come to the end — her parents sold the Iron Man Golf Course in Detroit Lakes this past summer — the lessons of the game have stuck with her.
“When we were little, if my brother and I weren’t practicing or playing golf, we were helping teach junior golf clinics at the course,” explains the golfer. “I started on the team when I was 11 years old.” recalls Smith who is a now senior at Detroit Lakes High School
With such a long history and solid attachment to the game, Smith has experienced much success through the years in the family sport. Golfing since the age of five, competing since age eight, Smith participates in numerous tournaments each summer. Last year, she played over 25 tournament days.
“I am on the road all the time playing various tournaments,” adds Smith, “But it’s good to get out of my comfort zone and force myself to play at a higher level.”
Smith attended her first big USGA tournament in California when she was just 12 years old, one of the youngest in the competition. The lessons gained from that first competition, though, were ones that stuck with her, as it would be with the many tournaments to come.
“I shot some very high scores; it was disappointing because so many people were rooting for me back home, yet it taught me no matter how much success I have, I can always be better,” says the golfer.
Hard work, focus and learning from the players around you, this is the golf philosophy she carries with her even today.
Says Smith, “When I started out, I was six to seven years younger than the girls I was playing with at the number one spot. I knew I couldn’t drive as far as the older high school girls could, so I worked on my short game where I made up most of my shots. I also learned as much as I could from all the great players around me. I adapted.”
One of those players/mentors was her older brother, Karter Smith.
“He was great at putting the work into be a better golfer, and he was always inviting me to play with him and his friends in order to include me,” remembers Smith. “I didn’t want to embarrass him or his friends after being invited, so I’d play my very best and hit from the men’s tees so I wouldn’t hold them up. Little did I know that would help me a lot in the future. It improved my game a great deal.”
Now taller, older and stronger, Smith is the veteran golfer on the team. She is the one with the long drives and amazing shots.
“I am at a different place now. I am the senior, and my game is continuously evolving.”
This year will mark Smith’s sixth appearance at the Minnesota State High School Championship. She took fifth at her first start in 2011 — she was in seventh grade. In her 2012 state run, she found herself at the top of the leader board at a 4-under, 140. Following up that performance, she would take additional first places in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In two of those wins, top accolades were shared with other golfers: fellow teammate Natalie Roth in 2013 and Pequot Lakes’ Maggie Heggerstron in 2014.
“I have been very fortunate to see a lot of great golfers at the state tournament in my nine years of coaching,” notes Detroit Lakes High School Girls Golf Coach Cali Harrier. “Kate’s first year at the state tournament she was an 11 year-old, seventh grader. She was very knowledgeable and skilled in the game of golf, but she was young, physically and mentally. She would struggle walking up the hills at the Jordan course, and often times,
I would make her smile with a joke during her round,” continues coach Harrier. “As she has matured in golf, she has also matured into a strong, brilliant, young woman.”
“My win in eighth grade was crazy,” recalls Smith. “I was so much younger than the seniors I was competing against. Honestly, winning was never something I thought could happen at the time, especially shooting 140,” she confessed.
According to Smith, last year’s win as a junior was a testament to hard work. She won it at 7-under. If she wins the 2016 title, she will be the first five–time winner, ever. A first for the MSHSL.
“I tied the record last year. This year though would mean making history which is a little more pressure.”
Smith notes that winning this year will come down to hard work once again.
“I want to make sure when I step up to the first tee at state that I’ve done everything I can — put in the time, practiced and worked hard in the spring,” says Smith.
“Kate has put many hours into the technical aspects of golf. I often hear ‘she makes it looks so easy’, but the truth is Kate has worked very hard for her success,” adds Harrier. “I am very proud of her. The past six seasons have been an amazing journey, I’m thrilled to be part of it.”
Golf is game of placement, remarks Smith, and the state course for Class AA at Ridges on Sand Creek located in Jordan, Minnesota is challenging. Besides a stalwart work ethic, Smith also has an additional secret weapon to aid her at the big meet, her coach.
“Coach Harrier has become more than a coach to me. We’ve spent many long car rides together over the past six years, so we have gotten pretty close,” comments Smith. “She knows me. She figured out, before I did, that I played better when I was distracted. She makes sure I don’t over think things on the course, which can be my downfall at times.”
As a senior, Smith is savoring her last bits of high school before heading to the University of Nebraska next fall.
“Golf is a great game for setting and achieving goals,” remarks Smith. “I am excited to be playing for a Big Ten school. It is a rebuilding year for the school too. I am excited to see what we can achieve while I am there.”
In addition to hitting the links which she says she still really likes, Smith also enjoys art, something she believes uniquely complements the game of golf.
“I enjoy art. Golf translates into a type of art too, as you imagine where you want the ball to go. It is a very mental game that you need to create a positive image to compete and win,” concludes Smith.
Staying positive and keeping ones focus is how true champions find success on the links. Smith is no exception. Many golfing greats share this sentiment.
Ben Hogan said it best.
“The most important shot in golf is the next one.”