Why it was important for PGA Tour pro Austin Smotherman to become a First Tee ambassador

Austin Smotherman saw an opportunity.

As a PGA Tour rookie, Smotherman has traveled to numerous communities across the country. On the course, he’s chasing wins, FedEx Cup points and more. Off the course, he notices dozens and dozens of junior golfers in the same shoes he was in growing up.

Smotherman, 28, has been involved with the game of golf nearly his entire life. Yet when he was 7 years old, he joined the First Tee’s Greater Sacramento chapter. It’s a decision that helped him become the third former First Tee member to eventually make it to the PGA Tour and helped him realize he wanted to give back to the organization that shaped him. 

That’s why Smotherman joined the First Tee again, this time as an official ambassador. And it was an easy decision.

“I wanted to share that experience,” Smotherman said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel, and traveling around to this many chapters opened my eyes to this being a possibility, and it’s always something I wanted to do.”

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As an ambassador, Smotherman will showcase his involvement with the First Tee and the impact it has on his life to help inspire the next generation. He also has the First Tee logo on his golf bag, which debuted at the Barracuda Championship. 

“Competing on the PGA Tour requires hard work and perseverance, and Austin’s story and the character strengths he developed during his time in First Tee will help inspire many kids and teens as they explore the many opportunities golf can provide,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. 

Austin Smotherman of the United States plays his shot from the 16th tee during the second round of the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities on July 22, 2022, in Blaine, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Smotherman was with the First Tee in Sacramento for 11 years, and through that program he was introduced fully into the game of golf and about lessons to be successful on and off the course.

He was born in Fair Oaks, California, but he and his family moved to Loomis, just northeast of Sacramento, which is where he grew up. His mother had a job in Sacramento, so during the summers, she would drop him off at the course and he would participate in the First Tee’s Little Linkers program.

The First Tee’s Greater Sacramento chapter was based at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, which is where Smotherman practiced most of the time. It’s also where his parents would go on dates before they were married. 

“Golf was a little bit in our family from that point of view,” Smotherman said. “But it was kind of a right place, right time, but the access to the extra golf and meeting wonderful people is everything the First Tee embodies.”

After graduating high school, Smotherman signed with Southern Methodist in Dallas, Texas, where he was teammates with Bryson DeChambeau and Harry Higgs. He graduated in 2016 and then played on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica. Then he was on the Korn Ferry Tour for three years before earning his PGA Tour card following a 25th-place finish in the standings after the 2020-21 season. 

Smotherman became the third former First Tee participant to earn his PGA Tour card, joining Scott Langley and Cameron Champ.

Austin Smotherman

Austin Smotherman (right) and Cameron Champ (left) during their junior days. (First Tee)

“I’m honored to carry that, being only the third person,” Smotherman said. “I hope I’m the third in a long line, and I hope I’m one of those people who can pass the torch.”

The First Tee launched in 1997, so the organization is celebrating 25 years of introducing the game of golf to juniors. By integrating the game of golf with a life skills curriculum, First Tee creates active learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence and resilience kids can carry to everything they do. 

Smotherman — who’s in the field at this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, Michigan, and opened the week by shooting a 68 — is playing in his sixth straight event looking to get inside the FedEx Cup top 125 rankings for the playoffs, which begin in two weeks in Memphis. Smotherman also plans to play next week at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina. 

His last two starts have resulted in an eighth-place finish and tie for 24th, moving him ever closer to the top 125, sitting at 134. 

Even while chasing the playoffs and trying to lock up his PGA Tour card for another year, Smotherman doesn’t forget his roots. It’s why he always takes time to participate in First Tee clinics in different cities he travels to while trying to give back to the organization that provided a pathway to help him where he is. 

“My story of everything the First Tee did for me and shaping who I am, it’s just one of thousands of stories,” Smotherman said. “And that’s what I think is so cool. As much as I’m gonna get to share my story, I’m going to be in a place to be able to hear and share other people’s stories, as well.”