Jim Smith, 78, an Oak Bluffs seasonal resident, shot his age at Farm Neck golf course last Thursday. And that’s not even the biggest headline.
The headlines are that he had his first Farm Neck hole-in-one en route to his round of 78, and that Thursday was the 11th time he has shot his age or better in the past six years.
We know that good news — OK, all news — travels fast around here, and The Times got a call from a Smith buddy who swore us to anonymity on Friday with the news of Smith’s three outstanding feats. The Times caught up with a very understated Smith at home on Sunday afternoon.
“Well, I didn’t think about [shooting 78] during the round, really. After a solid front nine holes, I threw some shots away on the back nine, so it wasn’t on my mind. One of my playing partners mentioned I could break 80 with a birdie on 18,” he said.
If you know Farm Neck, the 18th hole makes boys out of men and girls out of women. At 552 yards, the par 5 hole includes a 90° dogleg right, off the tee. A broad expanse of water has been thoughtfully placed in front of the green when you get there.
Smith got close to the water in two shots, popped on the green in three, and one-putted. “One of the guys said, ‘That’s a 78,’ and that’s when it occurred to me,” Smith chuckled.
Now Smith shows up as a quiet, unassuming guy who respects the game, someone you’d want to play with. On Thursday he played with Richard Osnos, Carl Van Rooyen, and Bucky Burrows.
Smith’s hole-in-one came on the par 3 fourth hole, which looks deceptively easy if you don’t look at the ocean curling behind three-quarters of the large green. “I hit a 5-iron that landed left of the hole, which was set in the back. The ball kept rolling and turning right, and dropped in,” he said of his 154-yard ace. The hole-in-one was his first at Farm Neck, but not the first of his career, which includes wins in local, state, and regional amateur tournaments in Vermont, where he lived and taught for 50 years.
As we talked on Sunday, it was clear that Smith is an athlete who played a variety of team sports in high school, college, and as an adult. “When the time came to stop playing those sports, 35, 40 years ago, I took golf up seriously. I’ve always been fascinated by the game,” he said.
An educator and coach during his teaching career, he honed his game by himself. “I’m pretty much self-taught. People have looked at my swing from time to time, but pretty much self-taught,” he said. That happened in Vermont, where wife Emmy and he raised two kids.
The Smiths moved to Florida from Vermont last year, as Smith investigates new golf frontiers in the Sunshine State. The couple will continue to live in Oak Bluffs as well.
“I played at three or four clubs, but my ‘home’ course, Lakeside Golf Club, doesn’t have a golf course, it’s where you go to record scores to establish your handicap,” he said. Lakeside is run by the Vermont Golf Association, and also schedules tournaments around the state.
Smith’s handicap now is 9.2 strokes. His lowest career handicap was 3. Golf handicaps refer to the number of strokes over or under par 72 that a golfer shoots over time. So Smith’s average round today is 81.2 strokes. At his lowest handicap, he averaged 75 strokes a round — rarefied golf atmosphere.