Ron Grillo

Ron Grillo

Smylie Kaufman a name to know on PGA Tour

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One of my new favorite players on the PGA Tour is Smylie Kaufman.

You’ve got to love the name. After he won the Shriner’s Hospital For Children Open in Las Vegas in October, with a closing round 61, the Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner told him, “You’ve got the name and you’ve got the game.”

The 24-year old Kaufman grew up in Birmingham, Ala., before leaving to play at Louisiana State, his father Jeff’s alma mater. His grandfather, Alan, did wonders at UAB coaching the Blazers’ golf program beginning in the mid-1990s.

Recently, Alan proudly told me a lot about his grandson, beginning with the next two years.

“He’s playing good,” Alan said. “He’s gettin’ better and he’s got exemptions for the next two years. That’s basically 75 tournaments he can play in. He’s gonna do well. You gotta keep gettin’ better. New people comin’ every day.”

How does Smylie’s game compare to other, even more well- known youngsters on the tour like Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy?

“I don’t know if he’s that good,” says Alan. “It’s all happened so fast. He went from the Web.comtour last year at this time to the regular tour. He’s got an excellent short game. Some weeks, he doesn’t putt well but when he does, he putts exceedingly well.”

The folks at LSU like to say, ‘Once Smylie reads the green, he can out-putt anybody.’

While in Baton Rouge, the considerable talent on the LSU golf team made it difficult for Smylie to compete regularly, which makes his ascension a bit of a surprise.

“Smylie didn’t play in every match by a longshot,” Alan said. “But they said he had the type of game with the most potential, that could work on the PGA.”

The grandfather is impressed with the grandson’s game, from the neck up.

“Smylie makes his own decisions ,” Alan said. “So far the decisions he’s made have worked out. He doesn’t like playing more than three weeks in a row. He likes to take a week off. He’s learnin’ a lot, figurin’ it out (life on the tour).

Smylie isn’t the first golfer on the PGA Tour Alan has ties to.

He convinced a young golfer from Ireland that Birmingham was the place where he wanted to groom his game for the top level. Graeme McDowell developed enough to win the 2010 U.S Open.

“We had a player at UAB, an Irish guy,” Alan said, “and I asked if he knew anybody at home and he gave me the name of two players. I didn’t know one from the other, and the first one I called committed to Toledo. And then I called Graeme and we brought him over and he liked what he saw. If the first guy had any interest in coming to UAB, I never would have called Graeme. I guess I just have the luck of the Irish,” he beamed.

We were hundreds of miles apart but I know he was beaming.