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Chris Smith, a Peru resident and member of Sycamore Hills Golf Club, was a mainstay on the PGA or tours from 1995 to 2009 before taking about a year off after a automobile accident in Steuben County.

‘Been a long, tough road’

After tragedy, golfer working to get back to game

– Nothing about clawing his way back on to the PGA Tour has been easy for Chris Smith, the Peru resident and member of Fort Wayne’s Sycamore Hills Golf Club.

“If I told you it’s been great, I’d be lying to you. It’s challenging,” said Smith, who was a mainstay on the PGA or tours from 1995 to 2009 before taking about a year off.

“The physical part when you take a year off is hard, but I’ve done a good job of that. Mentally, getting back into it has been a challenge. It’s been a long, tough road, but I know when I make it back I will enjoy it more than when I was doing it before and taking it for granted.”

Smith, 45, won the PGA Tour’s Buick Classic in 2002 and has won five times on the Tour, the top minor-league circuit.

In total, he’s earned more than $5.68 million.

But no amount of money would make up for the tragedy that derailed his life, not to mention his career, in 2009.

In a horrifying car crash in Steuben County, Smith’s wife, Beth, died at 42. His kids, Abigail, then 16, who was driving the SUV, and Cameron, then 12, suffered critical injuries. Their vehicle crashed into a bus carrying a semipro football team and more than a dozen people were injured.

It was on Father’s Day, so jarring that Smith wasn’t sure that he’d ever return to professional golf, whose multitude of players had an outpouring of support for Smith and his family.

“When (my kids) got to a better place and healthy, I started thinking it was time to start playing again,” said Smith, now remarried.

“There’s no question, it’s a different perspective, and I appreciate it more now. I was like any young player in that you think it’s going to go forever and it’s just life that takes you by surprise.”

Abigail is now 21, and Cameron is now 17. Without getting into specifics, Smith reported they are doing well.

“It’s still a little challenging for me to leave them,” he said. “I feel like I should be around all the time.”

But the itch for golf had returned.

About four years ago, the man he turned to in order to get his golf game back in order was Sycamore Hills’ PGA professional, Tm Frazier, who ultimately convinced Smith he should just join the club and its Jack Nicklaus-designed course.

“When you take that much time off and then start playing again, you fall into some habits that you aren’t even aware of that you’re doing,” Smith said. “Tim has been great and about 2 1/2 , 3 years ago, he looked at all my old video and figured out what I was doing, and it’s been a two-year process since then. It’s been much more than a little tweak here and there. He’s had his work cut out for him.

“The process of my golf game has been frustrating at times. But for the most part, it’s been fun. He sees me get frustrated because he sees me pick up the golf club and not be able to hit it like I did when I was 30.”

This year, Smith has played in five PGA Tour events, making the cut in two and earning $27,800. Interestingly, he could wind up playing at Sycamore Hills in the Hotel Fitness Championship on Aug. 28 to 31, in order to try and earn his PGA Tour card for 2015.

The Hotel Fitness Championship is part of the Tour Finals and will include those ranked 126 to 200 in the PGA Tour’s FedExCup – he is currently 220 – and the top 75 on the Tour.

“I’m hoping I will be in it. I would love to play here,” Smith said. “I would have a lot of fun and have a little bit of an advantage. I’m trying really hard.”

Uncertainty is something that Smith has grown accustomed to since rejoining pro golf. He frequents Monday qualifiers and doesn’t get sponsor exemptions like he used to.

“It’s been incredibly frustrating and incredibly difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to spend the time and the money to try and get into tournaments this way, and it’s really expensive. … You have to swallow your pride and ego a little bit.

“But it’s been a good, fun challenge. It’s helped me grow as a golfer and as a person.”