In sport – in most areas of life – there are teachers and guides. The teachers tell you what you want to know. Guides accompany you on the steep path to greatness, impart wisdom, propel you forward and help, if necessary, to carry your load.
In the world of golf, Randy Smith, PGA, falls firmly into the latter category.
The 18-time PGA of America National Award winner and PGA of America Hall of Famer is based at the Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas and has built a reputation as the preferred instructor for young players in North Texas for over 40 years, starting with the PGA TOUR Veteran Justin Leonard.
Now, just over two decades away from Leonard’s unforgettable rookie performance at the 1999 Ryder Cup, Smith’s next protégé Scottie Scheffler is set to cause a sensation in his first Ryder Cup.
As with Leonard, Smith began the journey with Scheffler when the rising star was in grade school. Given his success in identifying and cultivating raw talent, it’s hard to imagine that things could have gone any differently, but junior golfers weren’t in Smith’s mind when he began his storied career as a professional club player.
“Then this kid wanted me to look at a few things,” he says. “I watched him, then I helped him a little, then he wins a big trophy at a tournament in Oklahoma. So he makes me look and when he walks out of my office he stops, looks at me and says, ‘Now I want to know more.’ That was Justin [Leonard]. “
Smith immediately hired two other assistants at Royal Oaks to handle his other duties and focused his energies on player development. Since Leonard, a long list of professionals has grown under Smith’s guidance, including Harrison Frazar, Kris Cox, Matt Weibring, John Rollins, Martin Flores, Colt Knost, Cody Gribble, Paul Haley, and Ryan Palmer.
Photo courtesy North Texas PGA
The result was a culture in which each new group of Smith’s disciples adored the elders. Smith remembers half a liter of Scheffler watching Leonard, Haley and Cox shoot at the Royal Oaks practice range. And not much has changed since then. On the Friday before Ryder Cup week, Smith tells a story about Scheffler and 13-year-old Jeffrey Rubenstein, one of several promising young Royal Oaks players.
“Here [Scheffler] is preparing for the Ryder Cup, and four days ago he spent two and a half hours with Jeffrey and another kid in a putting competition, ”says Smith, noting that the teens were“ pounded ”by their more experienced buddy. “But they’re not scared of Scottie,” adds Smith. “You don’t let him intimidate you in the least.”
Smith’s extraordinary track record begs the question: what is his secret? He attributes luck, but there is clearly more to it than that. Working with children from 6 or 7 years of age requires a special temperament. To some extent, Smith was born with many of the qualities he needed. He picked up others along the way. This is best illustrated by something he learned from another Texan legend.
Years ago, Smith called Harvey Penick for advice. Penick invited Smith to Austin, where he spent a few hours watching him make his full turns. After Penick made some adjustments to his handle, Smith meekly mentioned that he had actually worked on his chipping. Penick asked Smith to return the next day and graciously promised to help him with his short game.
“I said, ‘Mr. Penick, I can’t do that, it just takes too much time, ‘”recalls Smith. “But he said, ‘No, that’s not a problem. I’ll see you tomorrow morning at 8.30 a.m. ‘ What I got from it was caring … He cared about my success. That was huge. “
If you look closely over the next four days, you can catch a glimpse of Smith walking the ropes in Whistling Straits, radiating the same spirit as he fearfully follows Scheffler through the links. The only remaining question is whether Scheffler will be the second of Smith’s students to engrave his name in Ryder Cup lore while helping the United States win.
It’s a big job, but if there’s someone who can hit the big shots when they count the most, it’s Scheffler, says Smith. Regardless of the result, however, PGA Coach Smith will be there every step of the way, taking this year’s Ryder Cup rookie sensation to ever greater heights.