Margery Smith is the mother of the state’s No. 1-ranked girls’ golfer in all classes, Kate. Margery also has doubled as her home school teacher. The adjectives she uses to capture her daughter are echoed by fellow peers.
“Kate is caring, considerate, intelligent and very mature beyond her years,” Margery said. “Golf was secondary with me. She has mastered it all.”
The Detroit Lakes senior is focused on becoming the first five-time individual state champion in state history. Kate, who won’t turn 17 until next month, has won four consecutive Class 2A titles at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.
Last season she became the second girls’ golfer to win four consecutive individual state championships. The first was Minnehaha Academy’s Katie Detlefsen, who won the Class 1A title from 2004-07.
“There is a lot of pressure that comes with winning, especially when it starts when you’re young,” said Kate, who was 13 when she won her first crown to became the youngest champion in any of the state’s three classes. “I have to keep getting better, and back it up.”
Not considering herself athletic enough for most sports, Kate has evolved from a youngster more preoccupied with “exploring my big backyard’’ on the golf course where her family lived.
With her parents’ prodding and older brother’s guidance, she developed an appetite for winning fueled by no fear of failure.
Now in her final prep season, Kate, who is committed to play for Nebraska, appears ready to challenge the state record.
In her first three tournaments — the Becker, Irondale and Jordan invitationals — she won them all. She was the medalist in the Jordan tournament this past weekend for the fifth consecutive year.
“I’ve been impressed the last two seasons with how she has come out of golf hibernation,” said her father, Kris, a golf pro in Connecticut who qualified for a couple of PGA events before moving to Minnesota in 1999. “She puts the clubs away in the fall for a few months to get away from the sport for a little bit. I marvel at her ability to come right back from where she left off.”
The Smith family owned and lived on Ironman Golf Course in Detroit Lakes but Kate, as a youngster, showed varied other interests.
“We tried a lot of different sports with Kate, but she was more interested in picking dandelions and catching frogs,’’ Kris said. “Her philosophical dad missed on that one.”
Kate will be the first to own up to her lack of athleticism.
“I wasn’t flexible enough for dance or gymnastics,” Smith said. “I wasn’t fast enough for any sports that involved running. I was down to bowling, tennis or golf.”
The links it was. She played in her first tournament as an 8-year-old.
“She didn’t like golf at the beginning,” Kris said. “When we took Kate to her first tournament and she saw they handed out medals and trophies, it started to grow on her. She likes to win.”
Pushed by brother
Kate’s push to improve came from playing with her older brother, Karter, now a junior at Drake University and a member of the men’s golf team.
“Golf wasn’t always her first passion,” Karter said. “She eventually started to get more into it. It helped growing up on a golf course.”
An 18-hole putting course was 12 steps from the back door of their house. The first hole on the par-3, 9-hole course was next to the putting course.
“Ironman was a perfect training ground for our kids,” Kris said. “It was small enough so they could create their own shots.”
Kate grew up playing rounds with Karter and his friends, hitting from the same tee box.
“I had to get better in a hurry,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to hold them up.”
Karter never viewed that as a problem with his sister.
“Kate hit the ball well, and kept up with us,” Karter said. “She is a very focused individual. She has no fear of failure, that’s why she succeeds.”
It starts at home
The two were pushed by their parents when it came to education. It wasn’t until Karter was a senior and Kate was a freshman that they attended public school.
“We home-schooled out of convenience,” Kris said.
With the golf business being seasonal, the family would head to Florida, where Kris’ parents lived, for two to six months during the winter. While Kris worked as an outside staff person at two courses, the four of them also were able to be around his parents.
“Margery was the teacher and I was the athletic director,” Kris said, laughing. “Minnesota high school sports was accommodating to home schooling, and Detroit Lakes was nice enough to accept our kids for athletics.”
Margery made sure they got what they needed as far as schooling, whether in Minnesota or Florida. The schedule was routinely 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. for school, break for lunch and golf, but back for more schooling starting at 1 p.m. for two or three hours.
They switched to Detroit Lakes when the home school curriculum Margery was using was set to lose its NCAA certification. It also provided her with an opportunity to see how she fared as a teacher.
“I was nervous their first year of high school,” Margery said.
Karter, who ranked 20th academically in his class at Detroit Lakes, carries a 4.0 GPA at Drake. Kate is fourth in her class with a 4.182 GPA.
“We did fine,” Margery said.
On the course
Kate’s home away from home might by Ridges at Sand Creek, where she has played more than 30 rounds. But she’s done well elsewhere, too, setting five course records for women.
“We created a big fish in a small pond, but Kate has proven she can play on the national level, too,” Kris said. “She has created her own excitement, dilemmas and pressure.”
Her front nine during the opening round of the state tournament last year might have been the most phenomenal. Kate shot a 6-under-par 30, finishing with an eagle on No. 8 and a birdie on No. 9. She wound up winning the title by two strokes.
“I wouldn’t label myself as an emotional person, but I have cried every year at the state tournament,” Kate said.
Detroit Lakes coach Cali Harrier said, “You don’t see a lot of celebration or disappointment out of Kate. The state tournament brings out a lot of different emotions. Her record speaks volumes.”
Kate hopes to add to it come the middle of June.
“A golf course is my safe haven. I’m always happy there,” Kate said. “Golf has done so much more for me than I could ever do for it.”