LSU's Kaufman taps Alabama clout for Open
When you qualify for the U.S. Open at the last minute and have just days to figure out travel plans and living arrangements, it’s nice to have well-connected relatives step in and provide some relief.
Organizing practice rounds with some high-profile veterans, for instance.
That’s the good fortune for Smylie Kaufman after his impressive performance in a sectional qualifier in Roswell, Ga. On the strength of an opening 67, the recent LSU graduate wrested the second spot at Settindown Creek course at Ansley Golf Club and immediately set his sights on not only his first major championship but his first PGA Tour start.
“Unbelievable,” he said.
What is believable, however, are the practice rounds tentatively set up for the 22-year-old, given his bloodlines. Reportedly, he’s got one with Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, and another with David Toms, the 2001 PGA champion. In each case, Kaufman had relatives with close connections.
His grandfather Alan Kaufman stepped down last year after 15 years as golf coach at Alabama-Birmingham, where his most notable player was McDowell. At a retirement party in May 2013, McDowell made a surprise guest appearance to pay tribute to his former coach, so it’s no surprise he would step in and spend some time with the grandson at Pinehurst.
Smylie’s father, Jeff Kaufman, has pitched in, too. He played college golf at LSU with Toms and helped facilitate that practice-round effort after Toms, 47, a 13-time winner on Tour, got through a qualifier in Memphis, Tenn.
Despite being born and raised in Alabama, Kaufman “has been raised purple and gold,” as his parents, Jeff and Pam, attended LSU and played on the golf teams there. Smylie Kaufman takes lessons from swing coach Tony Ruggiero of Mobile, Ala., who also works with Crimson Tide standouts Bobby Wyatt and Robby Shelton, and he’s longtime friends with another 'Bama golfer, Tom Lovelady, but all this exposure to Alabama hasn’t deterred Smylie from embracing his LSU passion.
Admittedly, it’s been “an up and down” college career for the 2011 Alabama State Amateur champion, but Smylie Kaufman will ride into Pinehurst on an emotional high. Not only for having earned the spot at sectional qualifying, but also for finishing second in the SEC Championship and sixth in the NCAA Championship.
“I recently made some swing changes (with Ruggiero), and I’ve been playing some of my best golf ever,” he said.
Apparently the momentum has filtered down to Adam Kaufman, the proud grandfather. Two days before his grandson would make it through at Settindown, the 77-year-old Kaufman shot 76 at Vestavia Country Club in Birmingham.