Scottie Scheffler’s PGA Coach Randy Smith is a Guru of the Game
By Matt Adams
In sports – in most walks of life, in fact – there are teachers and guides. Teachers tell you what you want to know. Guides walk alongside you on the steep path to greatness, instilling wisdom, prodding you forward and helping carry your load when necessary.
In the world of golf, Randy Smith, PGA, falls firmly into the latter category.
Based at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, the 18-time PGA of America National Award winner and PGA of America Hall of Famer has developed a reputation over 40 years as the go-to instructor for young players in North Texas, starting with PGA TOUR veteran Justin Leonard.
Now, a little more than two decades removed from Leonard’s unforgettable rookie performance at the 1999 Ryder Cup, Smith’s next protégé, Scottie Scheffler, is looking to make a splash in his first Ryder Cup.
As was the case with Leonard, Smith started the journey with Scheffler when the emerging star was in elementary school. Given his success recognizing and cultivating raw talent, it’s hard to think that things could have turned out differently, but junior golfers weren’t on Smith’s mind when he began his storied career as a club professional.
“Then this kid wanted me to look at some stuff,” he says. “I watched him, then I kind of helped him a little bit, then he wins a big trophy at a tournament in Oklahoma. So he brings it in for me to look at, and as he’s walking out of my office he stops and looks back at me and says, ‘Now I want to know more.’ That was Justin [Leonard].”
Smith promptly hired two more assistants at Royal Oaks to handle his other duties and focused his energy on player development. Since Leonard, a long list of professionals have come up under Smith’s tutelage, including Harrison Frazar, Kris Cox, Matt Weibring, John Rollins, Martin Flores, Colt Knost, Cody Gribble, Paul Haley and Ryan Palmer.
That bred a culture where each new group of Smith’s students grew up idolizing the older ones. Smith still remembers a pint-sized Scheffler watching Leonard, Haley and Cox hit shots at the Royal Oaks practice range. And things haven’t changed much since. On the Friday before Ryder Cup week Smith tells a story about Scheffler and 13-year-old Jeffrey Rubenstein, one of several promising young Royal Oaks players.
“Here [Scheffler] is, getting ready for the Ryder Cup, and four days ago he spent two and a half hours with Jeffrey and another kid in a putting contest,” says Smith, noting that the youngsters were “thumped” by their more seasoned pal. “But they’re not afraid of Scottie,” Smith adds. “They’re not intimidated by him one bit.”
Smith’s extraordinary track record begs the question: What’s his secret? He credits good fortune, but there’s clearly more to it than that. Working with kids as young as 6 or 7 requires a special temperament. To a certain extent, Smith was born with many of the qualities he needed. Others he picked up along the way. That’s best exemplified by something he learned from another Texas legend.
Years ago Smith called Harvey Penick for some advice. Penick invited Smith down to Austin where he spent a few hours watching him take full swings. After Penick made some adjustments to his grip, Smith sheepishly mentioned that he had actually come down to work on his chipping. Penick asked Smith to return the next day, graciously promising to help him with his short game.
“I said, ‘Mr. Penick, I can’t do that, it’s just too much of your time,’” Smith recalls “But he said, ‘No, it’s not a problem. I’ll see you at 8:30 in the morning.’ What I got from that was caring… He cared about my success. That was huge.”
If you watch closely over the next four days you might catch a glimpse of Smith walking the ropes at Whistling Straits, channeling that same spirit as he anxiously follows Scheffler around the links. The only question remaining is whether Scheffler will become the second of Smith’s pupils to etch his name in Ryder Cup lore while helping the United States to victory.
It’s a tall order, but if there’s anyone who can hit the big shots when they count the most, it’s Scheffler, says Smith. Regardless of the outcome, though, the PGA Coach Smith will be there every step of the way, guiding this year’s Ryder Cup rookie sensation to ever greater heights.