Q&A With Jerry Smith, Iowa Native and 2015 PGA TOUR Champions Rookie of the Year

Iowa native Jerry Smith, the reigning PGA TOUR Champions Rookie of the Year, is returning to his home state to play in the 2016 Principal Charity Classic. Smith, 52, who grew up in Oskaloosa, actually made his PGA TOUR Champions debut in this very event in 2014, playing on a sponsor’s exemption. Smith finished 28th on the PGA TOUR Champions money list last season with $652,365 after recording his first career Champions victory at the 2015 Encompass Championship.

Q: Does the PGA TOUR Champions feel more like home to you now?

JS: I would say yes. I’ve definitely done a lot out here in a short period of time, which has been very gratifying and satisfying. I really didn’t know what was going to happen. I went to the (qualifying) school a couple of times. And getting one of the five cards the second time around (for the 2015 season) made the beginning of last year a lot easier for me.

Q: In retrospect, you made the most out of your opportunity in 2015.

JS: To come right out on the PGA TOUR Champions last year and do well early and be in contention in Tucson (tied for 9th) put me a little bit at ease.  This tour is just different than the PGA TOUR. Everything about it seems easier as far as being able to prepare. There’s fewer players. You play a lot of pro-ams, so you’re out enjoying some of those rounds. That’s how I address those days. Just go out and enjoy the company with the amateur players. You’re just not grinding so much, it seems like, as you were on the PGA TOUR. All the guys out here are just really easy to play with. It’s very competitive. You see the scores, week in and week out, and know what you have to do.

Q: Does it feel any different now, playing on the PGA TOUR Champions with a victory to your name?

JS: Winning (the Encompass Championship) last year was huge. It was just one of those weeks there in Chicago that I literally made almost everything I looked at the first two days and got the lead. And even though the last round was a little up-and-down for me, once I was able to settle down – which didn’t really happen until the back nine – I was able to get the job done there. That lifted a lot off my shoulders, just being able to get a win. It’s tough. I was in contention a couple more times. I was there in Biloxi this year (tied for third), and I just faltered in the last few holes there.

Q: And now you return to your home state as a winner.

JS: I’m very excited coming back this year. Last year I felt like going into Sunday, if I could have gone out there and shot 65 or 66 I would have a chance (Smith tied for 41st after rounds of 69-70-74). I really feel I can do well at Wakonda. It’s the kind of golf course that’s tricky for the guys. I think they’re still trying to figure out Wakonda. A lot of guys feel they can do well, they just haven’t done it yet. It’s a tournament I’d love to be in contention in. To be in the state of Iowa and have a pretty good fan base, it would be a pretty special week.

Q: Isn’t Wakonda the kind of old-style course you guys don’t see every day on the PGA TOUR Champions?

JS: It’s a different golf course than the majority we play out here, with the blind shots and the uneven lies and the slanted fairways. It’s tricky, it’s tough, and the guys know it.

Q: Does this seem like a regular PGA TOUR Champions stop, or does it feel different because you’re in your old backyard?

JS: There’s no doubt it is a little tougher. A lot more fans come and watch and pull for me (than a normal event).  In those situations you always want to play well. Any player would say they probably put a little more pressure on themselves to do that.  It is different. I wouldn’t say I try to prepare different. You want to say “Hi” to everybody, you want to acknowledge everybody, you want to say thanks. It’s a different-feeling week. But it will be fun. I’m in a good place (24th on the money list.). I feel like I can come in there and hopefully just let it go a little bit more and be relaxed. Probably for most of us, that’s when we play our best. I feel like I can do well at Wakonda, and I always look forward to coming back there.

Q: What do your remember about your first career PGA TOUR Champions event at the 2014 Principal Charity Classic?

JS: I was fortunate to get an exemption there from Principal. It was great. I remember I played with Fuzzy (Zoeller) a couple of times that week. I remember going out there and making birdie on the first hole as a senior golfer. I just didn’t play well enough and didn’t putt well that week (Smith finished T75, 73-77-77). But it was a great start, and very memorable. And a great beginning to something that’s gone beyond what I could have expected so far in my senior career. Something hopefully I’ll be able to keep building on.

Q: Keeping your card on the PGA TOUR Champions is an accomplishment in itself, isn’t it?

JS: This tour is based on what guys have done on the PGA TOUR. It’s based on the amount of wins and money. After that it’s about what is going on currently. It’s Top 30, and that will change next year with the playoffs. It will go to 36. Myself, not having any wins or near enough all-time money (on the PGA TOUR) to be anywhere close to being exempt out here, I’m the type of player who has to stay in that fully exempt status year after year to make things easier for me. Obviously, I’d love to have as many years out here as I can. To do that, you have to play at a very consistent and high level and you need to win, if not every year, an every other year type thing. And its tough. It’s hard to get out here. It’s more difficult out here than any of the tours, as far as keeping status.

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter

 


Top 10 Moments In Principal Charity Classic History…No. 5, Bringing Home The Bacon

Pork is king in Iowa. Mark Calcavecchia was crowned king of the 2015 Principal Charity Classic. United forever. By bacon.

Wearing both bacon-inspired pants and belt, Calcavecchia snapped a 66-tournament dry spell on the PGA TOUR Champions with a final-round 69 and a 54-hole total of 12-under 204. Joe Durant and Brian Henninger finished a shot back.

“This came out of nowhere,” admitted Calcavecchia, who had tied for third the previous two years at Wakonda and had finished in the top 10 in five career Principal appearances.

The bacon apparel and a putter he bought in West Des Moines earlier in the week gave Calcavecchia’s victory a real Iowa flavor.

First, the clothing. Brooks Reynolds, founder of the wildly popular Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, sent Calcavecchia a photo of the bacon-designed pants four months before the tournament and asked the former British Open champion if he’d consider wearing them.

Calcavecchia called them the ugliest pants he’d ever seen. He also asked Reynolds to send him a pair.

Calcavecchia wore the slacks in the first and third rounds, and a bacon-inspired belt all three rounds.

Calcavecchia missed the cut at the Senior PGA Championship. He and his wife, Brenda, attended the Indianapolis 500 on May 29 and then came to Des Moines.

Calcavecchia, who grew up in Laurel, Neb., got a heavy dose of Central Iowa golf when he was in town. He played the Harvester in Rhodes, Des Moines Golf and Country Club and Glen Oaks in West Des Moines, as well as Wakonda.

He also found a putter during a visit to a local sporting goods store in West Des Moines. While Brenda went to purchase some energy bars and sports drinks, Calcavecchia headed for the golf section. One Ping putter fit his eye. He hit a few putts with it and bought it. It helped him win a first-place check for $262,500.

“Ping is fantastic about sending me putters and I’ve got 100 of them,” said Calcavechia, who has an endorsement deal with the company. “But sometimes you look at one and it just caught my eye.”

Calcavecchia started the final round with a one-shot lead over Durant. He never relinquished that lead, thought there were some serious challengers.

Durant held a share of the lead for awhile. And when Calcavecchia made his only final-round bogey at the tricky par-3 14th hole that enabled 2012 and 2016 Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III to catch him at 11 under. Love, a former PGA champion, got in position to win with four birdies in a five-hole stretch starting at No. 11. But he went bogey-double bogey on the 16th and 17th holes and tied for fifth.

Durant also rallied to get within a shot of the lead with birdies at 15 and 16, but couldn’t get over the hump.

“We were all trying to put some heat on him, but he made some good putts when he needed to and that’s what you do when you win,” Durant said.

Calcavecchia’s victory impressed Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who was at Wakonda for the final round wearing a Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival hat.

“He’s from Nebraska, that’s close enough for me,” Branstad said. “And he’s wearing bacon pants. We’re the leading pork producing state. We’re all for bacon. That’s great.”

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter