HARRIS - Symetra Tour golfer Nicole Smith was dining over some freshly caught lake salmon Friday night at a Ford River home when the discussion turned to home towns.
Lo and behold, but her great grandparents are from Sioux City, Iowa and graduated from high school in 1939. Don Wertz of Escanaba, whose daughter Jane Gundry and granddaughter Mary Feuerbach were hosting the meal, also was a Sioux City, Iowa graduate in 1939. Also at the meal were Mary Jane Wertz, Craig Gundry and Jerry Feuerbach.
"It was incredible," Smith said Monday before teeing off on No. 13 at a practice round at Sweetgrass Golf Club for this weekend's women's professional golf tournament.
Dennis Grall | Daily Press
Nicole Smith, right, reacts Monday as her putt rolls down a slope on the no. 12 biaritz green at Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris, while playing partner Daniele Iacobelli watches. They were finding out how the quirky green reacts for this weekend’s Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass, part of the Symetra Tour Road to the LPGA.
"They didn't know each other but as kids they did a lot of the same things and they graduated from rival high schools.
"It is so funny, 60, 70 years later you can sit and chat with someone (with that connection). They just happened to ask where we grew up."
Smith called her great grandmother, Arlus Barnes, 92, who pulled out her old yearbook and shared some memories over the phone of those days and of mutual friends. "She just had a ball," Smith said of the reminiscing.
Smith stayed with Feuerbach during last year's initial Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass but that phase of the conversation never happened. "We've kept in touch with each other. It's become a home-away-from-home," she said. "I consider the Feuerbachs family."
Smith, who now lives in Riverside, Cal., said her great grandfather, Jule, is deceased. "They grew up on the other side of the town," she said.
Smith, who appeared in Big Break Ireland on The Golf Channel, missed the cut at Sweetgrass last year. She tied for 41st at the last Symetra tournament, the Tate and Lyle Players Championship June 17 in Decatur, Ill.
She played Monday's practice round with Daniele Iacobelli, a native of Detroit who now lives in Viera, Fla. They had fun on the No. 12 green, a two-tier Biaritz green with a valley in the middle, which is where the pin was Monday.
Iacobelli tossed several lob shots to the back of the rear hill to see how far they would roll down, then joined Smith on the back of the green and hit some putts down the hill.
"We're just getting the course mapped out," said Smith, who said she is not using last year's experience as a lesson plan because of missing the cut.
"This is a whole new story," she said with a chuckle. "This is a beautiful course but it is a completely different course with the weather."
It rained hard for a couple of practice days last year and limited preparations. Monday there was bright sunshine and a gentle breeze, with the forecast calling for more of the same all week.
"My goal is to shoot three great scores," said Smith, who arrived last week to get some extended practice. She said the course is a good fit for her game. "I've had a very good rhythm throughout the year."
As Smith hit some tee shots, Iacobelli said she has enjoyed the course. She tied for 55th last year at 224, which was 15 strokes back of champion Stephanie Kim, and tied the course nine-hole record with a 4-under-par 32. "It is immaculate," she said.
Joining Smith as one of the longer hitters in the 144-player field, Iacobelli said that allows both of them to cut some corners. "I feel pretty good about my game," she said.
Both players spoke highly of last year's experience and were happy to return. They are both spending some nights with Paul and Patti Schrader of Escanaba before staying at the Island Resort during the tournament.
"This is one of the best events we've played," said Iacobelli. "The people in the Yoop are so welcoming. They make us feel like big shots, they make us feel like little princesses, like we are celebrities. It is a great feeling coming up here."
Smith said that kind of support is fantastic. "This was the biggest crowds we had. We feel very welcome," she said. "We can't say thank you enough. We don't have deep enough pockets (yet)."
She also wanted to give a shout-out to Jayne for providing workout facilities at Anytime Fitness Center in Escanaba, which she said sums up the wonderful experience the Symetra Tour players have at this tournament.