PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. – James Madison sophomore Trey Smith didn’t even make the trip with the team to True Blue Plantation for the Golfweek Program Challenge last season.
Then a freshman, Smith failed to qualify for a spot on the squad and was forced to stay back on campus in Harrisonburg, Va.
“It was tough because it was my first qualifier as a freshman and I missed it,” Smith said. “I really wanted to make it. I heard the course was awesome, so I really wanted to qualify this year and I did.”
Now he’s leading the tournament after shooting 5-under 67 on Monday to enter the final round at 9-under 135, two shots ahead of Campbell’s Grant Houser. He’s made 11 birdies and just two bogeys through two rounds.
Even more impressive is his play off the tee. After struggling with his driver for much of the spring, Smith has started his sophomore season off in a much better groove. He’s missed just one fairway in two rounds.
“I couldn’t hit it in the fairway,” Smith said of his troubles last spring. “I hit a low in the spring. It couldn’t have gotten much worse, so I went back home for the summer and just worked on my game. Then I came back [to school], started off good in qualifying and my confidence has been building up.”
With much of his time during the summer spent tweaking his game – he also added a long putter to his arsenal – Smith opted for a light tournament schedule. He played well, though, including finishing T-21 at the Eastern Amateur.
His improved play has continued into the fall season. He got redemption by earning the No. 1 spot in James Madison’s starting lineup for the Program Challenge in a 54-hole qualifier. And his 67 on Monday bested his previous career low of 68, which he set last year and equaled during Sunday’s first round.
“He played great this summer,” James Madison head coach Jeff Forbes said. “He went to that long putter, which really helped his scoring average. He’s hitting the ball a lot better. Last spring he was definitely off and his putter wasn’t saving him any. He’s swinging well and his putter is coming around.
“With the way he’s played so far, he can easily win this tournament.”
Smith has looked comfortable so far in Pawleys Island, which is a few hours from where his dad, Tim, played college baseball at the University of South Carolina. Smith said the course reminds him a lot of the courses back home in Virginia Beach, and it’s showed.
He started the day at T-3, but a birdie at the tough par-5 fourth hole got him going, and now he’s a round away from bringing home his first collegiate win. But he’s not so concerned with that.
James Madison, which also has Ryan Vince in the top 5 individually, is third in the men’s tournament, four strokes behind leader Campbell. The Camels also lead the women’s tournament by 28 strokes over Central Arkansas.
“I’m more worried about winning as a team than individually,” Smith said. “That’s a bonus. I’m trying to go out and rally my team, and hopefully they feed off the good energy.
“I think we haven’t even played our best yet, which is pretty awesome since we’re still up there near the lead. We get a good third or fourth score, we’ll be right up there.”