It’s funny how one bounce can transform everything in golf.
Naturally, that bounce can be either good or bad, wrecking seasons, careers or just a late charge at your club’s chook run – or propelling you to a trophy that seemed out of reach.
Sarah Jane Smith had suffered through her fair share of bad breaks during her 11 years on the LPGA Tour and feared the worst again in April as she resumed her weather-delayed second round on Saturday morning with the Texas wind whipping into her face.
“It’s a par four, the 15th from memory, and I hit a rescue off the tee for position, but with the wind howling in our faces, I had to hit a 5-wood flat out to get home in two,” recalls Smith, who was locked in fierce battle to make the cut.
“The second shot is over water to what’s almost an island green and I didn’t quite catch it and I thought, `Oh no, here we go again’.
“I knew it was going to hit the rocks short and then who knows? But it bounced on them and went straight forward at the pin and I holed a birdie putt from 15ft.”
What followed was a deserving slice of good fate for the delightful Queenslander who, quite simply, hasn’t had much of it on the world’s links since turning pro in late 2004.
That luck had spiralled south to the extent of 12 missed cuts in 21 events in 2015 as she fought, for the first time in her career, what she feared might have become a terminal battle.
“I just wasn’t going in right direction last year and it felt like a big step backwards for the first time,” she says.
“Previously I hadn’t been having any great wins or anything, but I’d been learning things and feeling like I was making progress. But nothing felt good at all last year … it was pretty worrying.”
Smith said she’d simply lost the previous “click” with her past coach and after a flat T65 at her beloved ISPS HANDA Women’s Australian Open in Adelaide, she returned to her Florida base desperately needing a change after poor health and form conspired for two missed cuts and her first career withdrawal in the first four tournaments of the LPGA season.
And then came the call that turned it all around.
Husband and caddie Duane picked up the phone to Sarah Jane’s former coach Sean Foley in the hope he might be able to offer a tip.
As luck would have it, they were all in Orlando at the same time and her emergency 40-minute clinic the next morning gave Smith just enough to reload and take the first steps back towards positivity.
“It was great, just refreshing at the right time,” Smith recalls.
“Sean gave me a bunch of drills to work on and I didn’t see him until July for my next (face-to-face) lesson.
“But I had enough to work on and he’s been amazing with checking videos and calling me back and I while I feel like I’m not seeing him a lot, he definitely has been giving me some things that work well for me.”
The turnaround wasn’t instant and a couple of bad breaks in San Francisco the week before Texas culminated in another missed cut.
“But I felt like it was just about there.”
Then came the “sliding doors” rock moment at the Texas Shootout and Smith hasn’t looked back.
Weekend rounds at Las Colinas of 67-69 vaulted Smith up the leaderboard and her T13 finish was the first in an unbroken string of 16 events in which she’s not only made every cut, but taken several huge career strides in major championships to boot.
“It was amazing that shot, when I look back now,” says Smith, who’s enjoying arguably her most consistent LPGA season with six top-20s vaulting to 53rd in the Tour’s Race to the CME Globe standings.
“We ended up having a really good week there and then Sean pointed out the difference that one inch between me only just making the cut and not, but the difference between beating myself up for nothing.
“That weekend was the big change.
“I haven’t dominated, but I’ve been consistent … and it’s nice to have some good results.
“It’s been a massive change and with no more cuts this year after (the) Evian (Championship), it’s sort of nice to have that streak going along, too.”
Smith, who played her junior golf in Caloundra and around the Sunshine Coast, missed out on this week’s Hana Bank Championship in Korea, but has starts in all bar one of the season-ending events ahead – and she’s first alternate in that Japanese event, too.
It has been a whirlwind 12 months for the 32-year-old, who for years was regarded as a great ball-striker who just hadn’t managed to have all components of her game click for four straight rounds.
“But going through that last year when nothing was going right, to get the ball around it actually made me become a better putter – I `kinda’ had to,” she says with a giggle.
“My chipping had been unacceptable, too. I was struggling to get up and down from spots other girls were thinking about making their little chips. You can’t compete when that’s happening.”
“But Sean has my long game back, now we’re working on the short game and the putting is just better than it’s been, I think.
“When you look back, I’d been hanging on for the last couple of years and needed to be at my absolute best to be around on the weekend, probably.
“But now I feel I can contend – that’s a much better feeling.
“Even in those (late-season) majors, I felt like I belonged there.”
That sense of belonging culminated in T17 and T30 finishes in the Women’s British Open and Evian, respectively. But those results hide the early brilliance that put her in contention in both for much of the British event and until the third round in France.
And while she’s been higher than her present 121 on the Rolex Rankings, the trend is strongly positive that Smith will soon reach a career high.
“I’ve been inside 100 in the world, but never far.
“I never really paid any attention to them, but I was fourth (in Australia) last year for ages but wasn’t at the time of the Crown International and while I was really happy to see Rebecca Artis get her debut (in the team event), I was pretty disappointed in myself to miss out on that chance.
“So I don’t really look at them, but I know it needs to get higher again to get into those type of events.”
You get the feeling luck won’t play a part when next those selections roll around.