Game Changers

Smylie Kaufman On Taking a Gamble With TV & Money Games With Jordan Spieth

By Adam Stanley
Published on
(Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

(Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

At the 2022 PGA Championship, a familiar name in golf circles tried something new.
Smylie Kaufman, who at one point was the 48th ranked player in the world, had moved into television as an on-course commentator.
He was a natural.
And things have been going great. Whether he’s in the analyst chair like at the recent U.S. Amateur or walking with the best in the world – or even the world’s best up-and-coming youngsters – Kaufman’s new career journey is off to a great start.
He bet on himself, and the big bet is paying off.
“It’s been fun – it’s been really rewarding,” Kaufman says. “I didn’t expect to enjoy this part of the business so much and I never really saw myself in this side of the business really. It’s funny. Now when I get to a golf tournament I picture myself playing like I used to and I see where our TV compounds are and I’ve never, never looked at a TV compound or even acknowledged a TV compound and now that’s all I know.
“It’s just a different world but I’ve enjoyed it.”
It all started with spring break
After Kaufman’s debut at the PGA Championship, he’s become a mainstay on PGA Tour broadcasts along with the coverage of some of the biggest junior and amateur championships across the United States. He’s also become a father for the first time, with daughter Anna Carter now seven months old.
Golf is, of course, an individual game. Kaufman is quick to give kudos to the rest of his broadcast team when it comes to finding success on television. It’s all knowing how to tee someone up, he says.
“A lot of time in TV when they throw it down to you, you can just be focused on your part of the show. But if you listen to the whole show you can use what other people have said in the show and tie it all together and that makes for a great broadcast,” he says. “I’ve worked with a lot of great people and my job has been made easy because of the great pros at this.”
But how did Kaufman even get started? As many know, he was part SB2K16 – or the 2016 spring break crew with Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and two-time PGA Champion Justin Thomas – who played plenty of golf (without shirts on, even) and had plenty of laughs in the Bahamas.
Things are plenty different now, with Fowler, Spieth, and Kaufman all dads and with all four married, but some of Kaufman’s “on-camera efforts” (mostly clips posted to Snapchat) were included in the clips that were sent to ESPN’s talent manager. As an ambassador at the time for Massage Envy, there was something called the ‘Smylie Set’ where he would interview other ambassadors. Between that and the spring break clips, he got the gig from there.

“People in TV can tell pretty quickly if you can do it or not and I always thought that was really odd. But now being in the business I understand it completely because you either have a feel for TV or you don’t.

Smylie Kaufman
“Once I got it, the advice from everyone I got in TV is it’s sink or swim. That’s terrible advice to get,” Kaufman says with a laugh, “because that was like your one shot. But they thought I could do it, and I did too after the PGA Championship.”
Kaufman also has a podcast (aptly named “The Smylie Show”) which launched in May. It took about a year from Kaufman initially wanting to do one. But he didn’t know what platform it would live on, nor did he know how it was going to look – he just knew he wanted to do one. It’s turned into a nice weekly recap of the PGA Tour (along with co-host Charlie Hulme) plus interviews with some of the game’s best.
“So far I’ve had great recaps but also have passionate talk to people about their ups and downs,” Kaufman says. “I think that’s an easy connection for me is to see the highest of highs and lowest of lows. It’s gratifying and rewarding to talk to successful people and people being so open about their successes and struggles and what they’re dealing with.”
Friendly wagers with Spieth and Thomas
Kaufman launched the podcast with Thomas as his first guest, and Thomas didn’t shy away from some juicy topics. None was more eye-opening (or laugh-out-loud funny) than finding out that Jordan Spieth is the most organized person on the planet.
In the heart of the coronavirus pandemic, Thomas, Spieth and a few other tour players headed to Ohoopee Match Club near Savannah, Georgia, for a get-out-the-house escape.
“One day we did a 3-on-3 game, best two balls. We played 45 holes. We played $100 one-downs that eventually got pressed on the last nine to a couple $100 more. I have a picture of it. We had 34 bets open, and we broke dead even,” Thomas said. “It was a fun trip … but somehow, he kept the scorecard and kept it perfect the entire time and we broke dead even. I have to give him some props for that.“
“No man loves keeping track of bets,” Kaufman continued with a big smile, “whether it’s acey-deucey, whether it’s games on the golf course (Spieth) is just a degenerate at heart and loves the action.”
Kaufman hopes the conversations he has on the podcasts will help the listener want to cheer for his guests.
But whether it’s talking about bets or making a big bet on himself, Kaufman is worth cheering for, too.