After graduation, most former students hope for a job that will pay bills and support a modest lifestyle. But former LSU golfer Smylie Kaufman received a different job offer this weekend.
Instead of a cubicle or office, Kaufman will work in the beautiful woodlands of Pinehurst, N.C. And instead of a singular boss, Kaufman will be watched by more than two million people across the country.
Just six days after finishing his career at LSU, Kaufman qualified for the 2014 U.S. Open after shooting a 2-under 142 at a qualifying event at Ansley Golf Club in Roswell, Ga. on June 2. The tournament will begin Thursday and will be held at the No. 2 course at Pinehurst Golf Resort.
“It’s good to see that I can play with pretty much anybody when I have my A-game,” Kaufman said. “It helps me as I go into the tournament this week. I know that I can compete with the professionals.”
The Birmingham, Ala. native had never played at Ansley going into the qualifying event and was only able to get in one practice round before the competition started. Other competitors included PGA pro Henrik Norlander and Oliver Schneiderjans, the No. 4 ranked amateur in the world.
Needing a top-2 finish to qualify, Kaufman shot a brilliant 5-under 67 in his first round to take a three-stroke lead. The LSU alumnus managed to hold onto a qualifying spot, shooting a 3-over 75 to finish 2-under overall and one shot ahead of third place.
Kaufman made an effort to take things slow as he battled through the second round, playing one hole at a time and not thinking too far ahead.
“You need a certain type of mentality in those situations,” Kaufman said. “It’s a long day when you have to play 36 holes, and every hole is going to count. You have to take it slowly, just like everyone else you’re competing with.”
Kaufman had his family by his side with his brother Luckie caddying him during the qualifying event. Luckie, who is currently a student at LSU, will also caddy Smylie in the U.S. Open this weekend.
Luckie knew what Smylie’s chances were during the tournament, but kept the information hidden from him for most of the tournament. Instead, he tried to keep his brother calm, making small talk with him as they moved through the 36 holes.
Luckie grew up playing golf with Smylie, and this recent achievement didn’t come as a surprise.
“We all knew he had it in him. My whole life, I knew something like this was going to happen eventually,” Luckie said. “It was just a matter of when.”
The performance continues a run of good play for Smylie at the end of the season with LSU. He finished individual runner-up in the 2014 Southeastern Conference championship in April, and also garnered a sixth place finish in the NCAA Regional Championship in May.
Smylie’s biggest moment was his 2-up victory against UCLA’s Jonathan Garrick, clinching the Tigers’ quarterfinal victory against the Bruins in the NCAA Championship match-play tournament. The semifinal appearance was LSU’s best finish since 1967.
Nothing in particular has changed in Smylie’s game that led to this recent success, but the run has given him a good deal of poise.
“I was very, very confident going into the qualifying event,” Smylie said. “I had played so well in the spring and my game has been sharp. I just knew that if I did my job the results were going to come.”
The U.S. Open is well-known for choosing the most difficult courses in the country to host the tournament, and Pinehurst No. 2 keeps with the trend. The course is notorious for its complex greens, and course designer Donald Ross called the course “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.”
But Smylie said when it comes to the U.S. Open, one should expect the highest level of adversity. He has been playing some of the best golf of his life, and he is ready for one of the sport’s ultimate tests.
“I’m just honored to be playing at a course like Pinehurst. Not everyone gets opportunities like this,” Smylie said. “I need to just keep hitting the fairways and be wary of the greens. It’s all about sticking to the game.”
Tommy Romanach is a 21-year-old mass communication senior from Dallas.