Smylie Kaufman just made a PGA Tour cut for the first time in 18 months

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Smylie Kaufman just made a PGA Tour cut for the first time in 18 months

PGA Tour

Smylie Kaufman just made a PGA Tour cut for the first time in 18 months

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DETROIT – To understand the drama that unfolded Friday afternoon at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, you need to know how bad things got for Smylie Kaufman.

It’s been a miserable year-and-a-half stretch on the golf course. He came to Detroit with time running out on a major medical extension, playing just his third PGA Tour event of the season.

He hadn’t made a cut since the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, 2018. He shot 76-78 to finish at the bottom of the board his last time out at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Tony Romo beat him by four shots that same week.

But Kaufman kept showing up, for 16 consecutive missed cuts, trying to convince himself it would get better.

“I’m a fighter,” Kaufman said. “I just didn’t have control of the golf ball really the last couple years.”

Kaufman showed signs of life with a 3-under 69 Thursday, his first sub-70 round in 18 months.

He was 4 under overall through 16 holes Friday, right on the cutline and needing one more birdie to feel good about his chances at the weekend. He hit the fairway with an iron off the tee at No. 8 and left a slippery 12-footer for birdie.

“I just felt like it was time to make one,” Kaufman said.

He drained it to get to 5 under and knew a par at the par-3 ninth hole would be enough to earn a paycheck. One more solid 7-iron is all it would take to snap the cut streak.

“It’s not that hard of a hole, but it felt pretty hard today,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman put himself in a good spot short of the flag and two-putted for a par that meant plenty for the former LSU standout.

“When I walked into the scoring tent, just a sense of accomplishment really,” Kaufman said. “When you’re getting beat up for that long you just kind of need to get the monkey off the back. Not that I’m out here just to make cuts. I have higher aspirations than that, but I definitely needed to get off the train. This was a big week in that.”

Kaufman became a fan-favorite after winning the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open as a rookie in 2015 and later signing on to endorse Natural Light beer.

Eventually the missed cuts started piling up and uncertainty crept in. Kaufman said it was mostly a physical issue, his swing in doubt most weeks. It’s not like he was lighting it up back home with his buddies. The game was just a mess for most of 2018.

“I was struggling just to play with anybody,” Kaufman said. “It’s a crazy game. I’m just now getting back to where I have that parking lot confidence.”

This is one of three remaining starts for Kaufman on his exemption, and he needs to earn just more than 300 FedEx Cup points to keep his card. Even a runner-up finish this week wouldn’t be enough on its own, so it’s win or bust for the next month.

But Kaufman is already in for the Korn Ferry Tour finals later this season and says he’s optimistic about the coming weeks and months, with a chance to finally play a few weeks in a row and try to get back in a groove.

Whether or not he does anything over the weekend, this was a feel-good day for a guy who desperately needed it.

“I’ve been playing all these two-day events,” Kaufman joked. “Need to start playing four-day events and start making some cuts and building some momentum.”

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