Posted: Wed September 3, 1997|
Chris Smith, who played the PGA Tour in 1996 but won only
$41,112 and lost his card, didn't expect to be back so soon or
to do so well. Nevertheless, since receiving the first so-called
battlefield promotion, which goes to any player who wins three
Nike events in a year, Smith has teed it up in two Tour events,
the Greater Vancouver Open and last week's Greater Milwaukee
Openand has won more than $30,000.
"This is like the silly season for me, where the big names make
all that big money in the postseason," says Smith, 28. "I tied
for 31st with eight guys in Vancouver [earning $8,325] and made
what I would've gotten if I had finished fifth on the Nike tour.
I got a courtesy car this week [in Milwaukee, where he came in
12th and earned $23,238] so yeah, life is good."
Smith, as the first Nike upgrade, has been something of a guinea
pig. What, he asked, would happen if he got passed on the Nike
money list after he left? Good question. Eventually he was told
that the Tour's policy board would refine the rule so that a
player's position at the time of promotion would be guaranteed,
meaning that Smith will stay No. 1. This is important because it
will keep him ahead of the Q school qualifiers on the Tour's
priority rankings for getting into tournaments next year. Smith
will return for the season-ending Nike Tour Championship but
otherwise will play in as many regular Tour events as possible.
Smith's father, Terry, organized a trip to Milwaukee last Friday
for a busload of hometown fans from Peru, Ind. (pop. 20,000).
Peru is a 4 1/2-hour drive away, and because Smith had a morning
tee time, the bus left at 2:30 a.m. After shooting 69, Smith
drove to Chicago, where the group had dinner at a Greek
restaurant. "We had two pigs on our table, a lot of red wine and
40 of us going nuts," Smith says. "I got up and gave a toast,
saying, 'I don't know why you guys camethere's no way I'd get
up at 1 a.m. to watch someone play golfbut thanks.'"
Playing on the Nike tour has also had its moments for Smith. In
1995 at the Dakota Dunes Open, he met Ted Waitt, chairman of
computer maker Gateway 2000, and the two became friends. The day
after this year's Dakota Dunes tournament, Waitt invited Smith
to join him in a pro-am and surprised him by filling out the
foursome with George Brett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
"He's better than you'd think he'd be," Smith says of Gates. "He
hits it real straight and consistent, and has fun."
Though probably not as much fun as Smith himself is having now.
"It's going to be nice to be able to plan my schedule next year
and feel like I belong," Smith says. "I'm having a blast."