Multi-talented Smith eyes LPGA tour card

Libby Smith during the second round of LPGA Q-School.

Libby Smith during the second round of LPGA Q-School.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One glance at Libby Smith is all it takes to reveal a former life as a Division I basketball player. Tall and lanky, Smith uses her height to her advantage with a long, powerful swing that has her right where she needs to be heading into the final round of Q-School at LPGA International.

Smith not only was a two-sport athlete at the University of Vermont, but also graduated with a degree in civil engineering, bringing new meaning to the term multi-task. She calls her four years there a blur, and a little bit of downtime is one of the lifestyle adjustments Smith has encountered since turning professional in 2004. Another? Actually playing with women.

While practicing with the basketball team during the week – and maintaining the starting point guard position in every game for four years – Smith moonlighted with the men’s golf team on the weekends, and is the only woman in the country to play on a men’s team at the Division I level.

It wasn’t always met with encouragement.

Smith remembers with a good laugh the player she encountered her freshman year who announced he would sell his clubs if Smith beat him in a college tournament.

She did. He didn’t. But it didn’t matter, because Smith has no regrets about her college experience at Vermont.

“I really couldn’t have asked for anything more,” she said.

As a model of consistency through the first three rounds, Smith was happy to put the fourth round behind her. She fought hard to prevent the wheels from falling off, grinding out a 73 on the tougher Legends course that included a recovery shot off a drop on the cart path at No. 2, a pitch-in for birdie at No. 3 and a handful of par saves as the day wore on.

“You just have to try to stay in it and every hole is a new hole,” said Smith, who took comfort in the fact that she continued to strike the ball well Saturday even if the same results weren’t there.

Smith stands at 6-under 282 on the eve of the final round, having dropped from the third-round lead to solo third. With her dad, Frank, on the bag this week and lots of experience on the course, she’s still feeling relaxed.

“One way or another, I’ve played a lot of rounds here,” she said. “I’m comfortable with the golf course.”

Smith’s impressive college resume isn’t the only thing that makes her stand out on tour. Like LPGA Tour Championship winner Maria Hjorth, Smith used a long putter – a 50-inch TaylorMade Spider – for the duration of last season. She switched to that style of putting a year ago at Christmas, and spent last weekend watching Hjorth close out a victory with her long putter, taking mental notes all the while.

Then, of course, there are the fans. Several came out to support Smith as she moves closer and closer to full status for 2011. This is Smith’s third trip to Q-School. She finished with a share of second in 2009.

Each member of Smith’s gallery – from her parents to golf buddies to sponsors – had something to say about Smith’s character. She’s known for her attention to volunteers and supporters, and has a reputation for being a genuine steward of the game. 

Jeanne Morrissey, who runs a General Contracting Business out of Williston, Vt., that sponsors Smith, flew down late last night to watch the final rounds. Morrissey, a fellow civil engineer, first met Smith in 1999, when the two played in the Vermont Women’s Amateur. Smith won her first of five straight titles that year, and Morrissey was paired with her. To this day, Morrissey is in awe not only of Smith’s talent level on both the course and the basketball floor, but also her poise in other aspects of life.

“Libby is a very unique and special opportunity, it’s like funding inspiration for me,” Morrissey said. “It’s like funding the arts.”

With such a range of talents, you might even call Smith something of a Renaissance woman.

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