Big Break Ireland Competitor
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
Current Residence: Riverside, Calif.
Home Course: PGA West
College: University of Tennessee
Profession: Golf Professional
The back story of the majority of professional golfers normally starts with parents introducing their children to golf at a young age. Not so for Nicole Smith.
“My parents do not play golf at all,” joked Smith. “When I was 7, my best friend growing up was learning to play golf and I would tag along with her. I would hit the clubs that she wasn’t hitting.”
She is quick to point out that she was not a naturally gifted golfer, but was a quick learner. After a year of playing with her friend’s clubs, her parents planned to buy her a set of her own. Only one problem. Smith is left-handed, and she was learning to play with right-handed clubs.
“My dad asked me, ‘Shouldn’t we buy you left-handed clubs because you are left-handed?’ I told them no, I’ve been playing with right-handed clubs, so there was no reason for me to start over and learn to play left-handed.”
Fast forward to her freshman year of high school, when she won her first title and found a strong passion for the game. The following spring, she suffered the first of several injuries that threatened to derail her dream of playing professional golf. Initially, when underwent wrist surgery and temporarily took a step back from the sport. Determined to get back to form, she underwent intense physical therapy and resumed playing nearly a year later.
Following high school, she played collegiate golf at the University of Tennessee, a long cry from her hometown of Riverside, California.
“I loved playing for Tennessee. Going to college in a different part of the country – and a completely different culture from what I was used to in California – allowed me to grow more as a person. My experiences prepared me so well for life after college. Going to Tennessee was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
While at Tennessee, another injury setback – this time to her shoulder – threatened to sideline her career. As she attempted to play through the injury and her results dropped on the course, she had to shut down for a second time.
She missed playing with her teammates. She missed that competitive fire.
“I told myself that I’m going to play my senior year. I’m going to finish out my college career, and then will start practicing full time.”
When she resumed playing her senior year, she led by example. Being away from the game and the team for seven months, her motivation and desire was contagious, and Tennessee finished the season in the top-25 nationally, keeping that streak alive for the 17th consecutive year.
Following graduation in 2009, Smith turned professional. She competed full-time on the LPGA Futures Tour in 2010 with moderate success. She also realized that life on the road as a touring professional was difficult. A long-time friend and fellow competitor on the LPGA Futures Tour became her travel companion – Big Break Sandals Resorts competitor Ryann O’Toole.
“Ryann and I have been great friends since we were 13, and she has been a great travel buddy the past couple of years,” said Smith. “She and a lot of other players on Tour helped me acclimate to life on the road.”
O’Toole also was the instigator for Smith to apply for Big Break.
“She told me what a great experience it was, and just how much it helped her confidence on the golf course by playing in front of all of the cameras,” said Smith. “Look at her now. After Big Break last year, she started winning on Tour. She has played in two LPGA majors this year. She had a top-10 finish in the U.S. Open. If she can do it, so can I.”
Only time will tell when she tees it up on Big Break Ireland.
Watch Nicole's Video Bio.