Fortuitous chat pays off in exemption into this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson Classic

Austin Smotherman of Loomis plays during the final round of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica Essential Costa Rica Classic at Reserva Conchal Golf Club on May 7 in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
Austin Smotherman of Loomis plays during the final round of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica Essential Costa Rica Classic at Reserva Conchal Golf Club on May 7 in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. PGA Tour

Loomis’ Austin Smotherman, a recent SMU graduate, had just finished lunch at a Dallas golf course several weeks ago when he found himself in a conversation with a fellow interested in his progress as a newly turned professional golfer.

Smotherman told the man about his success on the PGA Latin America Tour and some of his goals, which included attempting to qualify for this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson Classic in nearby Irving.

If his golf ball ricocheted off a tree and into the hole, Smotherman couldn’t have had better luck. The man was Randall Stephenson – chairman, chief executive officer and president of AT&T – and he was evidently impressed because Smotherman received a call a few weeks later that he had received a sponsor’s exemption into the Byron Nelson, which will be his first PGA Tour event.

“He made a call on my behalf,” a grateful Smotherman said Tuesday after a practice round at TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas, the site of this week’s tournament.

It’s been a whirlwind week – and year, for that matter – for the 22-year-old Del Oro High School graduate. After wrapping up a solid college golf career and graduating in four years, he married his Sacramento sweetheart, Jessica Douglass, in December.

In January, he qualified for the PGA Latin America Tour, where the top five money winners at season’s end get full Tour status. After six of 17 events, he’s 15th on the money list but could be better.

In an event last month in Argentina, Smotherman holed out from 125 yards for an eagle on the first hole of his third round. He finished with a 3-under-par 69 and was 11th. Three hours after the round, tournament officials called with bad news: Video evidence showed his ball had wedged against the pin and hadn’t fully cleared the lip of the cup, so when he pulled it out before it dropped, by rule it was as if he hadn’t completed the hole. He was disqualified.

“All I had to do was hit the pin,” he said. “A lack of focus on my part.”

He says he’ll be focused this week on a course he’s played dozens of times and with a former SMU teammate and club member as his caddie. Plenty of family and friends have flown in for support.

“All the course knowledge is there,” he said. “I’m going to treat it like I’m down in Latin America. Put myself in tournament mode and get going.”

20 aces and counting

Jack Kissee’s swing does not evoke visions of greatness. It’s wristy, he bounces the shaft of his club off his shoulder at the top of his backswing, his alignment is 45 degrees left of his target and he maxes out at about 140 yards.

It’s indicative of someone who didn’t take up the game until his 50s. But persistence and a positive attitude count, as do his 20 holes in one. The Rosemont resident has made them all at Bradshaw Ranch, where’s played 27 par-3 holes almost every weekday since retiring as a meat cutter in 2003.

He made his most recent two aces during the last week of April.

“They usually come during my worst rounds,” he said Tuesday during a first nine of 3-over 30. “I’m like an accident waiting to happen, but boy does it feel good when it happens.”

Kissee, 72, and Mel Planchon, 85 with eight aces, are typically the first two on the course Monday through Friday. With a towel hanging from their back pocket and a $100 all-you-play weekday monthly pass, they usually go for four hours.

Kissee has aced seven of Bradshaw’s holes but not No. 2 (178 yards) and No. 7 (199 yards), which are now out of his range.

“This is my retirement home,” Kissee said. “This is where I go to pump iron.”

The results are in

▪ Davis, Oak Ridge and Jesuit finished 1-2-3, respectively, in Monday’s Sac-Joaquin Masters high school boys tournament at The Reserve and advanced to next Monday’s Northern California championship at Sierra View. Lodi’s Justin Gums was the medalist with a 4-under-par 68. Matthew Sutherland (Rio Americano) and Kevin Huff (Vista del Lago) were among five players to tie for second at 72. Both advanced as individuals in a playoff.

▪ Sacramento State is 12th of 13 teams after two rounds of regional play in the NCAA Division I men’s championship. Baylor leads the Stanford Regional by seven shots over the host Cardinal. Aaron Beverly is at 5-over 145 after two rounds to lead the Hornets.

▪ Dave Baskins won the Sacramento County Senior Men’s Championship at Ancil Hoffman with a two-round total of 1-over 145. Rob Adolph was the super senior division winner.

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526, @Steve_Pajak