Of the 27 rookies making their PGA Tour debut, Nate Smith is likely the only one who spent Thursday’s rained out day getting lost at sea.
An avid fan of the water, Smith stayed dry long enough to post a 5-under 65 in his first-ever round in a full-field PGA Tour event yesterday at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
The 27-year-old Duke graduate followed his only bogey of the day on No. 5 with six birdies at Waialae Country Club to sit in a nine-way tie for second place.
"The first nine holes were a little bit of a scramble, but I got it going and made a few putts on the back," Smith said. "I wasn’t really quite sure how I was going to play … but it worked out all right."
While the majority of players were scrambling to find places to practice Thursday, Smith used the free time to continue his weeklong escapades in the ocean.
Some of the events on the itinerary have included spearfishing, snorkeling and paddleboarding. Thursday, Smith and a few friends went out to the North Shore to check out Waimea Bay and nearly got swept out to sea.
"We got caught outside the break at Waimea and we were trying to find the channel, but I think it was a mythical channel and we couldn’t really line ourselves up because the waves were so big," he said. "Luckily we were able to charge back in, but it was kind of touch-and-go there for a second."
The ocean has kept Smith from feeling the pressure of debuting on golf’s biggest stage. Yesterday was his first round in a full-field PGA Tour event, and by the time he reached 18, he already had the look, and score, of a seasoned vet.
"I think that’s what helped because it’s supposed to be a big thing," Smith said of his debut. "It’s nice to be able to go do all this other stuff to keep your mind off of it."
After graduating from Duke in 2006, Smith played two years in Europe on the European and Challenge tours before teeing off on the Nationwide tour in 2010. He won once in September, but missed out on earning his tour card at the Nationwide Tour Championship, forcing him to go through qualifying school.
"Q-school is the worst because you’re sitting there and you have five, six nights or whatever, and if you count the two practice days, eight nights to think about everything," Smith said. "It’s the longest week ever."
Fellow rookie Ben Martin matched Smith’s 65. Together, they were two of only eight rookies to shoot under par in the first round.
While Martin torched the front nine with four birdies and no bogeys, Smith needed a birdie on No. 9, the easiest hole of the day, to get back to even.
He carried that momentum to the back, where he birdied 10 and 12 to get to 2 under. He sunk a 13-foot birdie putt on 15 and did it again from 8 feet on 16 to get to 4 under. He scrambled from the rough to save par on 17 and closed with a 3-footer on 18 for his sixth birdie in 10 holes.
"I could have made a couple of more putts there, but I’ll take the 65," he said.
He finished his round just after noon and has a 1:10 p.m. tee time today, giving him a full 24 hours to relax in between.
Any chance he spends it on land?
"Not at all," he said. "We’ll probably go out on our boards and try to catch some fish. Toss some tako and squid in the water and see what it’s all about."