DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Currently sitting at 21st in the Race for the Card, Epson Tour sophomore Katherine Smith got off to a fast start in round one of the Epson Tour Championship. The Minnesota native blitzed the Jones Course at LPGA International, firing a bogey-free, 7-under 65 that saw her make seven birdies, six of which came in her final nine holes.
Smith grabbed a birdie early on the par-3 3rd hole to get to 1-under but hopped on the par train for the rest of the front nine, only managing to turn in 35. The 24-year-old then put the pedal down, carding three birdies in four holes from Nos. 10 to 13. She parred 14 and made another birdie on 15, now sitting at 5-under on the day, closing out her round with two more birdies on the par-3 17th and par-5 18th to post her second-lowest round of both the 2023 Epson Tour season and her Epson Tour career.
“I knew making the turn I needed to be more aggressive with my approach shots. I knew the way I was hitting it wasn't going to get me anywhere, so just try to be a little bit more aggressive and kind of get rid of the self-doubt,” said Smith of her mentality on the final nine. “Once you're on the train it's like, ride it. You feel like you can do anything out there with a golf club in your hand, which is fun. Those are the good days.”
The Epson Tour Championship can be a stressful week for many as some look to lock up LPGA Tour cards, others are vying for LPGA Q-Series exemptions and some are just trying to save their Epson Tour status for the next season. But Smith is more than used to dealing with pressure.
The University of Nebraska alum founded a graphic design company in 2021 alongside her business partner and golf broadcaster Shane Bacon. Ground Under Repair Design focuses on logo design, branding and merchandise consulting for both small businesses and golf courses, and Smith splits her time competing on the Epson Tour with creating graphics and meeting with clients in need of the company’s services.
Co-owning a business has been a rewarding venture for Smith as it allows her to have an off-course distraction that also helps her build her brand in the golf industry, an important thing to consider as professional golf careers are often not lifelong. It’s also nice to have some extra money to play with, especially considering how pricey it is to pursue her dream of playing on the LPGA Tour, something that Smith doesn’t plan on giving up on anytime soon.
“Business is good. It's had to slow down a little bit with me being so busy. We're excited for a winter of helping some clients out and doing some design work. It's just nice to be involved in so many different aspects of the golf space,” Smith said. “People don't really talk about money enough out here. It's not fun to talk about, but if you can have that sense of comfort and be like, if I have to spend two or three years on the Epson Tour, if I can afford it, I can make it.
“A lot of people don't have the opportunity. Money buys you time, and I feel like at least my business is giving me more time to be able to see some starts on the LPGA (Tour) sometime hopefully soon. It's a wild experience, but I love playing on this tour and I love being out here, so I definitely want to do it as long as I can and maybe move on to the next level.”
But rest assured, Smith’s focus this week is on securing LPGA Tour Membership for the 2024 season. And if that doesn’t happen, at the very least she should be able to lock up a spot in the LPGA Q-Series field, one that will see her entry fee paid by the Seiko Epson Corporation, a perk for which Smith, like so many others in the Epson Tour Championship field is incredibly grateful.
“Epson and the sponsors, like Jody (Brothers, Epson Tour Chief Business and Operations Officer) and the staff have really changed our experience,” said Smith of the opportunity to have her LPGA Q-Series entry fee paid for by Epson. “You're not thinking, ‘Oh, can I afford Q-Series?’ You're thinking like, ‘No, it's paid for and I'm going to go try to get my card.’ Having such a great second option to top 10 is nice.”