Golf doesn’t seem like it should interest those in a cold-weather climate. For most in the northern half of the country, the moment October rolls around, winter’s icy breath makes its bittersweet appearance, chilling the bones and pinkening the cheeks, shuttering the mind to all thoughts of balmy afternoon tee times.
Still, these places produce incredible talent, players unafraid of a biting chill or stinging wind. They have given us names like Patty Berg and Amy Olson. Newly minted professional and former University of Nebraska Cornhusker Kate Smith is looking to add her name to that list.
Smith grew up in northern Minnesota with two parents who worked in the golf industry, a lineage that seemed to guarantee Kate and her brother Karter would pick up the game. However, while her sibling took to and was successful at golf from an early age, it wasn’t until later in her childhood that Kate showed interest.
“My parents were very firm on having us try a lot of different sports because they didn't want to push us into it,” she said. “I always wanted to be like my brother and he’s just one of those people that work really hard and that everybody loves so I always wanted to be like him. I didn't find as much interest in it until middle school and high school when you can win tournaments. It was fun once you started playing with more girls. I think the latter half of college really is where I've completely become a golf nerd as far as podcasts and books and I really dived into it.”
Because Smith had few friends to play with in Detroit Lake, it was tough for her to find community in the game. But when your parents are instructors and run golf clinics for a living, you learn to be creative and take the matter into your own hands.
“I'll tell it the way my mom tells it. It's so depressing. She's like, ‘Well, we started Kate's Club because Kate didn't have any girls to play with.’ That's pretty much how it started. My mom didn't see a lot of girls playing golf and we had co-ed clinics. But she and my dad wanted to make a clinic that was specifically for girls, maybe a little less technical and a little bit more fun. It's been awesome. It's been one of our more popular clinics every Monday. And it goes for about five weeks every summer. It'll fluctuate up to 60 girls a week.”
As her game got better, Smith’s dreams got bigger. Even though her family couldn’t afford the AJGA events that would’ve gotten her more national attention, Kate landed at the University of Nebraska, a school that would challenge her both on and off the golf course.
“I wanted to go to a Big 10 school and Nebraska was a perfect fit,” Smith said. “I was going to be a small fish in a big pond there because I didn't have a ton of experience. I had five years there with COVID and I had a few different coaches. All of my coaches helped me, but I felt like the last couple years I really developed as a player and had a lot of cool opportunities.”
Smith turned pro shortly after graduation, making her first professional start at the Prasco Charity Championship in June. She breezed through LPGA Qualifying Tournament Stage I, firing 10 under to finish tied for eighth, and showed up to Stage II feeling good about herself and her chances at Q-Series. She opened with a 4-under 68 on the Panther Course at Plantation Golf & Country Club, but after shooting 77-71, Smith teed it up on Sunday knowing she had to make something happen.
A double on the seventh hole put her at 2 over for the tournament, but Smith rattled off birdies on 9, 12 and 15 to put herself on the bubble coming down the last. The lengthy birdie putt was a must-make for the 22-year-old if she were to have any shot at eking out a top-45 finish. As the ball rolled over the front edge of the cup, father Kris let out a celebratory shout and Smith posted two under, squarely on the cut line.
However, Q-School doesn’t always reward heroics. Despite the most valiant of efforts, Kate missed out on Q-Series by a single shot.
“I think making that putt was awesome,” she said. “It proved to me that I could do what I needed to do when my back was against the wall. Those three hours after were probably the hardest three hours of this year because you have no control. And I'm not rooting for anyone to play poorly. Everybody deserves to pursue their dreams. It was hard to be in that position, knowing that the writing was on the wall. I’m a huge believer that everything happens for a reason and there's a big plan to everything. It was a cool experience to feel like I was clutch in the moment, even though it didn't turn out.
“I'm just super psyched to be playing professional golf and it actually be a tangible dream. I don't think anyone's really putting too much pressure on me. And I think everybody around me is really just excited that I'm in the process, let alone having some sort of status for 2022.”
While she prepares to compete on the Epson Tour, Smith has another exciting opportunity on the horizon. Having earned a degree in graphic design during her time at Nebraska, Kate began to gain attention on social media for her overhauls of golf course and tournament logos. One of the biggest fans of her work was Golf Channel’s Shane Bacon. After Smith reached out to the on-air personality about his podcast, the duo decided to start a business, Ground Under Repair Design. The company is still in its early phases but it’s obvious that Kate’s talent and unique eye for logo creation are already catching the eye of those in the golf community, allowing the young professional to make a name for herself outside of her playing career.
“(Shane) reached out and we're actually starting a design and consulting company. I was just tweeting out logos that I was redesigning. I'd play a course and I'd say, ‘This logo kind of sucks. I'm gonna redesign it,’ and then I would tweet it. I was a big fan of Shane's podcast so I reached out to him in that way. And then he was like, ‘I really want to get into this. Let's make a startup and do it.’ That's given me a lot of confidence and a lot of clients the last few months.
“I think for athletes, you're always kind of put into a certain box and I don't know if athletes get to be seen as talented in other ways. You kind of feel like whatever you do outside your sport is discounted. So to have people like him see my worth in an art aspect, it means a lot. It's been really fun working with people and getting to know golfers and golf courses around the country and talking with them. It's been awesome.”