AGOSTINI: Turlock's Smith brothers have a gift for golf

ragostini@modbee.comSeptember 10, 2013 

— Paul Smith won't merely follow in the footsteps of brother Sam at USC.

He already lives in Sam's former off-campus apartment. And sleeps in bro's former bed.

"I wouldn't have thought that could happen four years ago," Sam mused.

The Brothers Smith have sustained their passion for golf from children to young men, from Turlock High to college and beyond. Their careers have intersected in a crazy way, however, as Sam starts his professional career and Paul transfers from Cal State Stanislaus to USC.

Same apartment? Same bed?

"I just want to focus on what I'm doing and try to surpass what Sam has done," said Paul, who's on his way to qualifying for the Trojans' first fall tournament next week. "But Sam's records can't be a concern of mine right now."

Paul earned his spot at USC with two solid seasons under coach John Cook at Stanislaus. The California Collegiate Athletic Association's Freshman of the Year in 2012 improved this season and was named to the NCAA Division II All-American honorable mention list.

The younger Smith averaged 73.5 strokes per round and was No. 2 on the Warriors' lineup behind Rob Damschen. His seven top-10 finishes, three of them top five, pushed the Warriors to a ninth-place finish at the NCAA D-II Championships (they reached the semifinals in 2012).

"I was a lot more consistent this year. Consistency always has been a problem for me," Paul said. "I can improve on my irons, but right now I'm driving good and putting good."

USC coach Chris Zambri no doubt recognized the scores and the bloodlines. Paul hoped to transfer to Cal, but when that didn't materialize, he looked south. His immediate future was settled by the end of March.

"(Paul's loss) hurts our lineup," said Cook. "He did a good job for us. There will be a few bumps but we'll be OK."

Meanwhile, Sam Smith — the fourth-year Trojan and the team captain as a senior — virtually carried an otherwise young team into the NCAA Championships.

Sam saved his best for last at USC. He averaged 71.2 and earned All-American third-team honors, thanks in part to a memorable performance at the NCAA Regionals at Pullman, Wash.

Sam opened with rounds of 62 and 64, an NCAA Tournament record for back-to-back rounds. He eventually tied for medalist honors with Cal's Michael Weaver, which accomplished one of his three career goals.

"I wanted to be an All-American, to win a tournament and to win an NCAA individual or team title," Sam said. "I made two out of three. I'm happy with that."

A season highlight was a team trip in January to Augusta National and three unforgettable rounds on the famed site of the Masters. Good connections helped. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden is a member at Augusta and Cypress Point.

"It's pretty hilly. It's more difficult than you think," said Sam, who stayed in the Eisenhower Cabin and shot 73, 72 and 71. "You have to hit the ball well to score there. If you're a long hitter, it's in your favor."

Sam is treading through his segue from top collegiate talent to bottom-rung pro. Last week, he shot 71-71-68 and tied for seventh during a Web.com Tour qualifier at San Juan Oaks. That vaulted him into Stage 1 of the Web.com's Qualifying School less than a month away at Dayton Valley, Nev. He'll also try to qualify for the Frys.com Open, a PGA Tour event, played Oct. 10-13 at CordeValle south of San Jose.

"It's like golf is a job now. You set your own pace," Sam said. "I've got to give it a good shot and see how I hold up against the rest of the guys."

As for this week, Sam has returned to his former apartment for a visit with his brother.

But time moves on. Sam must sleep on the couch.

THE SHAG BAG — If all goes as planned, the old clubhouse at Modesto Municipal will be replaced as early as late next spring. The First Tee of Central Valley, which uses Muni as its headquarters and manages the pro shop, is working with the City of Modesto on plans for the new facility. "It will be bigger and it will have a classroom and a fitting room," said Sandra de Alcuaz, who oversees the local First Tee chapter. "It's somewhat modeled after The First Tee of Monterey's building to a smaller degree." ...The First Tee raised about $20,000 during last week's Ladies On The Links Tournament at Muni. Seventy-two local women teed up for a good cause. ... The dates for the 2014 Reno-Tahoe Open are July 31-Aug. 1, no major change from the 2013 calendar. The RTO, won this year by Gary Woodland, again will run opposite the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

HOLES-IN-ONE — Rod Niles, Oakdale, 135-yard second at Del Rio CC (Bluff), 8-iron. ... Gilda Duckworth, Turlock, 118-yard eighth at Creekside, 5-wood. ... Jim Duckworth, Escalon (no relation to Gilda), 71-yard third at Escalon, pitching wedge. ... Scott Beaton, Turlock, 126-yard eighth at Seascape, Aptos, pitching wedge. ... Jim Jessup, Turlock, 130-yard second at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 6-iron.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports.

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