Nick Nunn staff writer
For Bailey Smith, a seventh-grade student at Morgan County Middle School and resident of Buckhead, next Sunday will be a day that the young man will likely remember for the rest of his life. Next Sunday, April 6, Bailey Smith, along with 87 other junior golfers from around the nation, will be competing in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship National Finals at the Augusta National Golf Club. The competition, which will be broadcast live on the Golf Channel from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. this coming Sunday, will have the finalists, 11 boys and 11 girls from each of the four age groups, taking part in driving, chipping, and putting contests to see who will earn the trophies for individual skills and overall champions. Bailey took first place in the regional qualifier at UGA last July and then at the sectional qualifier, competing against young golfers from all around the southeast at the Atlanta Athletic Club last Fall to qualify for the Chip and Putt Championship National Finals.
Bailey’s journey to this point has been a long time coming. According to Michael Smith, Bailey’s father, Bailey began swinging golf clubs along with his father in the yard at the age of three. When Bailey reached the age of six, Michael and his wife Chastity Smith began taking him to the Long Shadow Golf Club in Madison Lakes, where the Smiths had purchased a lot near the first green. “He was the whole reason we bought the lot,” said Michael Smith. “He started off teeing off from the 150-yard marker until he could consistently make at least nine pars a round.” Smith said that, before long, Bailey moved up to teeing off from the women’s tees and then from the men’s tees. Smith stated that Bailey can consistently drive the ball approximately 275 yards and remain in the fairway.
“His wedge game is unbelievable,” said Smith moving on to other aspects of Bailey’s skills. “Hal Gerhardt, assistant pro at The Creek at Hark Labor constantly reminds everyone that Bailey is the best wedge player he has ever seen. Hal has seen a lot of real players in his time on the course.” Smith said that, in addition to practicing three to four days a week on the course, Bailey maintains a straight-A average at school, is a member of the National Junior Honor Society, and is a member of the First United Methodist Church in Madison. “There is seldom a day that goes by that he doesn’t hit a golf ball,” stated Smith.
“He gave up all sports for this. It is his thing.” Smith said that Bailey is mostly self-taught and has only received three lessons in his life, from John Tillery, but that Bailey receives a lot of support from his family and friends. “Eamon Owen has helped Bailey as much as anyone,” said Smith. “He is Bailey’s ride to the course during days off from school and during the summer. He motivates Bailey and pushes his.” “He is probably Bailey’s best friend and is a great golfer himself.
He has mentioned he wants to be Bailey’s caddy when he goes pro.” Smith also recognized Karl Gross, the head pro at the Creek, who also independently runs the Georgia Junior Golf tour, where Bailey got his first tournament experiences. Bailey has won several tournaments during the past few years, including several events for charities. He plans on competing in the Future Masters event in Dothan, Ala., and some Georgia GPA Junior and South Eastern Junior events in the coming year.
“Bailey loves golf,” said Smith. “It is his passion. He says he wants to play at Clemson. Some of our friends cringe at this, but Chastity and I could care less where or if he plays.” “It will be a blessing from God for it to happen, but it will not be from a lack of support from his family or friends. He has the talent and support, so we will see. We want to thank everyone who has shared support in this once in a lifetime event.” Make sure to watch Bailey compete at the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship National Finals at the Augusta National Golf Club this Sunday, April 6, on the Golf Channel from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.