Shippensburg's Jim Smith is no ordinary golfer
His name is Jim Smith.
It's a rather ordinary name.
But this Jim Smith, the one who is a senior on the Shippensburg Greyhound golf team, is anything but ordinary.
And his story is also far from routine.
Start with a simple fact: Since he starting playing golf as a freshman, Smith has cut his score by more than half -- by 94 strokes. Yes, that number is accurate. The score in his first round of high school golf was 180 - which is, by simple math, 10 strokes per hole.
How many people playing their first round of golf with a soul-crushing score like that would ever pick up a club again?
Smith did. Again and again.
Earlier this fall, Smith posted his career best score in high school - an 86 at Penn National Founders - and he is averaging 90.6 per round. So by the numbers, Smith can say he is literally more than twice as good as he was when he started.
"Even when he wasn't playing well, he enjoyed golf," Hound coach Brad Horgos said. "By the end of the first year he shot a 137, and the next year he started with a 120. I told him, 'You have already improved by 60 shots - that just doesn't happen.' He had it down to averaging about 100 last year. I didn't think he'd shoot in the 80s this year, but he did in his first four rounds."
But the numbers, even as astounding as they are, don't come close to telling the Jim Smith story. Here are two stories that do a better job of it, and show how he has come full circle in his young golfing career.
The first match of Smith's career was held at Chambersburg Country Club, a track with slick greens and plenty of hazards. The only reason Smith was even playing is because Horgos had him as a student in eighth grade and talked him into coming out to be Ship's seventh player, one it needed to be a full team.
The course chewed Smith up that day, but just the fact he completed his round - all 180 strokes of it - tells you something about him. And it should have been only a 178.
"I was putting for a 14 on one hole and I was about 40 feet away," Smith said. "All the other guys had long putts, too, so they weren't near the pin. Somebody asked if I wanted the pin tended, and I said, 'Don't bother; there's no way I'm going to make it.' Then I hit my best putt of the day."
Of course, the ball dove right into the cup.
"I was upset," Smith said. "I knew right away that wasn't legal. If you're on the green the pin has to be out. So I called a two-stroke penalty on myself."
Now, let's skip forward in time four years to Monday. It's Smith's last regular season event and it's being held on the Hounds' home course, Chambersburg C.C., which has been a nemesis for Smith. But he had a goal.
"I really wanted to shoot at least a 90 today (half of his 180)," he said. "This was the beast I wanted to slay."
And Smith was within range of that goal when he teed his ball up on No. 6, his 16th hole of the day. Unfortunately, he hooked it into the rough to the right of the fairway.
"I'm usually pretty good at finding balls in the rough - I got used to it when I was playing bad," Smith quipped. "I found a ball near where I hit it and looked down, and it was a Titleist 3 Velocity, which is what I was playing. So I hit it up near the green and chipped up close. But when I marked my ball and picked it up, I realized that my initials were not there and it had a different logo, so it was not my ball.
"And I know playing the wrong ball is a two-stroke penalty. So I went back up to the rough and found my ball about 15 feet from where I found the first one. I played it from there and would have had a four, except for that penalty."
Guess what Smith finished with: a 92. He would have reached his goal of 90 and shot exactly half as many shots as he did as a freshman, except that he called the penalty on himself.
"No matter how bad I wanted that 90, I feel better because I took the penalty," he said. "It wouldn't have felt as good if I didn't."
Are you starting to see the kind of person Smith is?
Horgos said, "He has come such a long way. He was voted a team captain the last two years. He cares about helping his teammates and playing for his school. He's made all of us better just by being around him. It's been an amazing experience."
Chambersburg coach Mark Yost said, "It's been great to see his game grow and improve. He's a really nice young man and a pleasure to be around."
Between that awful first round and the latest match, Smith hit the driving range, played when he could and even putted on a carpet in the attic of his home. He said he read a book, "Every Shot Counts" by Mark Broadie, which uses math and statistics, and it changed his mindset.
"I learned that a good putt can make up for a bad drive," Smith said. "The difference between making a 10 and an 8 is the same as between a 3 and a 5."
Smith said he likes golf because it's played by people of integrity, it tests your skills and your ability to be honest, and it shows character, plus he likes being outside playing a game.
"I also like the creativity that golf allows - you'll never hit the same shot twice," he said.
As Smith's high school career closes - he likely will qualify for the Mid Penn tournament (a highly unlikely prediction four years ago) - he is satisfied with what's he's accomplished.
"I have enjoyed the improvements," he said. "That commitment has taught me life lessons, like the sky really is the limit. Nobody really stops trying to improve in golf, and I don't think I'm done yet, either."
OK, nobody really expects him to cut his score in half again, right? He can't shoot a 45!
But then again, how many would have believed Smith could shoot a 90 after that unsightly 180?
Maybe only Jim Smith, not an ordinary guy.