SHOAL CREEK, Ala. – The hardest part about caddying for your wife, for the Smiths at least, is making small talk. Sarah Jane and Duane Smith know all there is to know about each other because they spend all day, every day together. When it’s Duane’s turn to lighten the mood or get his wife’s mind off of say, leading the U.S. Women’s Open by four strokes, he has to reach deep.
“I’m not on social media,” said Duane. “I think I’ll find some news, and she’ll tell me that happened a long time ago.”
The Smiths are a fantastically chill couple, or “cruisy” as Duane likes to say. They met as 11-year-old junior golfers on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, but didn’t start dating until a friend set them up as partners in the Queensland Mixed Foursomes. They were wide-eyed 18-year-olds back then. Now the thirty-something Smiths, seasoned world travelers, are enjoying rare air at rain-soaked Shoal Creek, where Sarah Jane shot back-to-back 67s.
“I mean, 10 under in two days here is unbelievable,” said Carlota Ciganda, who sits seven back in a tie for fourth.
Fellow Aussie Su Oh carded a 68 on Friday to trail Smith by four. Ariya Jutanugarn also holds a share of second at 6 under but has 10 holes remaining in her second round.
Play was suspended for three hours and 38 minutes on Friday due to dangerous weather conditions. Players got out for about three holes late in the evening but were called off again when electricity returned to the area. Round 2 will resume at 7:45 a.m. EDT.
Nothing in Sarah Jane’s recent history could predict such a stunning start. At the U.S. Women’s Open, she has only made the cut one time in six previous showings. This season on the LPGA, she missed five of her last six cuts.
“It wasn’t disastrous,” said Duane of her recent form, “just a little bit off.”
After the ANA Inspiration, where Sarah Jane tied for 40th, she switched clubs and promptly missed the cut in her next three starts, having lost distance control on shorter shots. Smith made an emergency trip back home to Orlando, Fla., to get her old set.
“The plan was to stay on the road, “ said Sarah Jane, “but we ended up flying home after San Francisco and went and got all my old stuff, which, ironically, I put on a bench. I was like, I literally benched them.”
She also made a change to her putter, switching to a smaller grip. And, after putting cross-handed for several years, went back to conventional.
Longtime swing coach Sean Foley also gave her new drills to work on. They got together before Kingsmill and the student felt good about things until she missed another cut. Frustrated, Smith asked if there was a book she could read to help things come together.
“He called me on Monday and he’s like, there is no book, you idiot,” Smith said. “Keep showing up, it’s going to turn around.”
And boy did it ever.
Smith isn’t a well-known name to golf fans, but she’s extremely popular among peers. Ciganda spoke for many when she said: “I think she’s a great player, and a better person.”
The Smiths have been together every step of the journey. When asked earlier in the year about the longest they’ve ever been apart, Duane’s examples involved a stretch of hours rather than days.
There were mistakes early on. Like at Q-School when Sarah Jane noticed that Duane hadn’t written down a single note in the yardage book. Or when Sarah Jane got into an LPGA stop in Danville, Calif., at the last minute and, after a surprisingly good start, Duane gave her a wrong number on a downhill par 3.
“First good shot she hit all day,” said Duane. “It went over the green, nearly hit a cow on this farm. Made double.”
Sarah Jane is the boss, as Duane likes to say, but she won’t yell at him for a mistake. Won’t fist-pump for a birdie either. She’s warm like the sunshine. Humble too.
“We definitely have our bad days,” said Duane, “but they’re not that bad, and they’re not that often.”
When ANA Inspiration champion Pernilla Lindberg noticed her good friend’s name at the top of the leaderboard on Friday, she couldn’t help but wonder if her own victory in April had served as, well, inspiration.
It took Lindberg 192 starts on the LPGA before she stepped into the winner’s circle at Mission Hills. Smith, who is still looking for her first win, has 222 career starts. A victory this week ($900,000) would more than double the winnings of her best season on tour ($411,933).
Lindberg, who beat Inbee Park in a Monday playoff, said she kept her phone on airplane mode for most of the weekend at the ANA. The key, she said, is to not think too far ahead.
“She has been there for me when I’ve had rough patches,” said Lindberg. “She kept telling me last year that you never know when it’s going to turn around, and that’s what I’ve been trying to tell her too.”