Most freshmen would be terrified making their first start for one of the top Division I men’s soccer teams in the country. But when freshman Will Smith made his first start for No. 20 William and Mary (8-2-1, 3-1-1 CAA) against High Point Sept. 18, he was largely unfazed.
The freshman had already competed on one of sports’ biggest stages less than a month before he suited up for the Tribe. His welcome-to-the-big-time moment did not occur on the pitch, however — it happened on the golf course.
On the morning of Aug. 2, Smith closed his eyes, took a deep breath and launched his drive on the first hole of the qualifying round for the U.S. Amateur Open.
“I’ve never struck the ball better than that day,” Smith said of his performance.
Smith’s experience on the tee at the U.S. Amateur Open was not unlike his first action for the College. As one of only two freshmen starting on the backline for the Tribe men’s soccer team he has anchored a defense that has helped the team to three shutouts and a six-game winning streak.
Soccer has provided Smith with memories that he said would be impossible in an individual sport like golf. Instead of playing alone on the links, he made his first start with the full team against High Point on September 18, and has started every game since.
“Getting my first start here kind of came out of nowhere, and it was a big boost just for myself in general here,” Smith said. “It’s been a lot of fun since, being out there with all the guys and stuff, instead of sitting on the bench.”
Unlike in soccer, in which he could rely on his teammates for support, Smith had to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Open on his own. But like he has done for the Tribe this season on the pitch, Smith responded well to the pressure on the course.
In order to make the cut for the U.S. Amateur Open, Smith needed to record a handicap index of 2.1 or lower. A player’s handicap index is a number calculated by the United States Golf Association which determines the number of shots that each golfer can take on any given course that he or she is playing.
Knowing every stroke would count in his hopes of qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Open, Smith selected Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Conn. for his qualifying site. There, he fought with roughly 80 other players for one of three spots that would guarantee a trip to the Amateur Open.
Smith shot a pair of 73s for a day’s total of 146, and tied for second place.
After qualifying, Smith went to University Place, Wash. to compete in the Amateur Open at Chamber’s Bay Golf Club. The U.S. Amateur Open operates much like the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — there is an initial round of matches to narrow the field to 64 players before the golfers face off in head to head matchups.
Despite averaging a 73 in the run-up to the Open, Smith shot an 87 and 78 in his two days of play and did not make it to the round of 64.
“Even though it went pretty terribly, it was pretty awesome to be playing in a tournament with 312 players in the whole country,” Smith said. “Ten will end up being professional and were really good. It was really fun.”
Despite not advancing to the final round of 64 golfers, Smith remains optimistic about his future chances in golf.
“I’ll definitely try again, now that I’ve actually done it,” Smith said. “I’ll be able to do a lot better in the Amateur because I won’t be as nervous, freaking out as much that I’m in the U.S. Amateur. I plan to keep golfing the rest of my life, competitively in the summers, but who knows what happens after college?”
For now, even though he enjoys golf and plans to keep playing, Smith said he plans to stick with soccer at the College.
“First and foremost, soccer is my main focus,” Smith said. “Who knows if I’ll [golf] play after college? But for now, college soccer at William and Mary is my main focus. I found what I really wanted to do in college and what I’m happy doing all the time.”