Sarah Jane Smith broke a long drought and added her name to the growing list of women to have beaten the men in Webex Players Series events with a brilliant close-out performance at Cobram Barooga in the TPS Murray River tournament.
The Victorian-born, Florida-based 15-year professional played magnificent golf under pressure on the final day, shooting a six-under 65 to win by five shots.
It is her first win as a professional since 2008 in New York on the secondary American tour, back in a time when she played as Sarah Jane Kenyon, before her marriage to Duane Smith and the arrival of their three-year-old son, Theo, who watched her eclipse of the field over the weekend.
“I think you appreciate it anyway, but after the couple of years I’ve had on the course, it’s just extra special,” she said.
Smith shot 63-65 on the weekend to finish at 20-under par overall, five ahead of Victorian Andrew Martin and Queenslander Shae Wools-Cobb at 15-under, while overnight joint leader Matias Sanchez faded to outright fourth at 14-under.
Smith lost her full playing rights on the LPGA Tour at the end of 2022 and was close to quitting. But a trip to visit Sunshine Coast mastercoach Grant Field, the mentor of Cameron Smith, changed her thinking.
“I didn’t feel done at the end of last year, but I knew I wasn’t in the right place for (LPGA) Tour school. I thought I’d come home, play the Aussie Open, it worked out that I could see Grant, spend some time with him,” she said.
“He’s been drumming into me that ‘it’s not over unless I want it to be’. To see everything come together this quickly is incredible. Because I was basically done at the end of last year, unless something changed drastically. I’m pretty happy, a little bit surprised with this.”
Smith’s buffer was picked up quickly, a birdie from close range at the 13th gave her some comfort, and she was able to parachute in with five straight pars.
“Grant gave me one thing that made me feel good all day,” she said. “He told me to enjoy the (expletive) out of it, but he told me ‘just because you feel different doesn’t mean the skills won’t be the same’. That’s something I’ve felt when I was nervous before, I worried it would go away. I’d hit one bad shot and it would snowball. Today I kept repeating that, reminding myself that just because I felt like that, it wasn’t going to be any different.”
Martin shot 66 and was gallant on the day in trying to chase down Smith.
As for Smith, she will play the Vic Open at 13th Beach this coming week and TPS Sydney at Bonnie Doon, before returning to the US to try her luck again.
She appears to be a different player altogether, and the $45,000 winner’s cheque will help, too.
It was a remarkable day at Cobram Barooga, with 24-year-old New Zealand professional Kit Bittle winning a BMW iX worth more than $100,000 by acing the par-3 3rd hole early in the morning.
Pollard, who is also playing in the All Abilities event at the Vic Open next week, was 19-over par through two rounds.
In the TPS Junior Players Series, Melbourne’s Max Fedmowski, 17, played a superb round of three-under 68 to win by nine shots. The Sandhurst member played in the final group with Smith and Sanchez, and held his nerve wonderfully well.
Soon afterward he jumped in a car back to Melbourne to play in a qualifying event for the Vic Open on Monday morning, proving the adage that golf is nothing if not relentless.