Steely Smith soars into WPGA contention

Steely Smith soars into WPGA contention

Sarah Jane Smith isn’t feeling the heat chasing her first pro victory in 14 years because she’s already conquered the greatest pressure she’ll ever feel in golf.

The affable Smith’s excellent Friday 68 has catapulted her right into the hunt for the Fortinet Australian WPGA Championship on the challenging Royal Queensland layout.

Smith (71-68) sits just two strokes behind rookie leader Grace Kim (69-68) and a shot behind second-placed Su Oh (66-72) entering the weekend.

Smith is confidently wearing the pressure-repelling armour she found last month at the LPGA’s gruelling Q-Series when she retained her card by a single shot after eight rounds over two weeks.

It was a life-changing moment for Smith, 37, and worth a win in every sense. It will give her a calm on Sunday if she gets in the hunt.

“I mean, having Q-School last month that’s going to be the best thing for me for the rest of my career because there’s nothing ever going to feel like that,” Smith said.

“I was playing for everything. It was for my career really because I don’t know what I would have done had I actually missed that.

“That was I think the most pressure I’ll ever feel.

“To have the opportunity to win something as opposed to lose something, it’s just a totally different pressure.

“So, I hope that if that is to come then I would do a lot better.”

Smith rattled in five fine birdie putts on Friday, including three in a row from the third hole.

Smith and caddie-husband Duane dote on son Theo, who was born in 2019. His presence in Brisbane this week has rallied a big family turnout.

“Our little son is definitely top of the pecking order. They’re not here to see us,” Smith said with a smile.

Smith’s last victory was as Sarah Jane Kenyon in 2008 at the Twin Bridges Championship in Albany, New York on the second-tier Symetra Tour.

More than a decade on the LPGA Tour has produced a solid career, a superb joint fifth at the US Women’s Open in 2018, a second placing in the Kingsmill Championship in 2014 and a bunch of top-15 placings, but no victory.

“I’ve had a rough couple of years. It was a lot harder coming back after I had a baby in 2019. I was playing really well up until that point but wasn’t the same person, physically or mentally, when I came back. That just puts it in perspective,” she said.

The Queenslander would be delighted if the breakthrough win came at a tournament in her home state for a trophy named after Karrie Webb. Taking a cup back to the US to share a sip from it with Webb would be ideal.

“Oh my goodness, that would be a dream. To share that with her would be incredible,” Smith said.