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Extreme Smith Not Typical Golfer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For some who play the sport, the bumper stickers and T-shirts say it all: golf is life.

But for Hart High senior Charlie Smith, one of the region’s top prep golfers, life is much more than golf.

It’s about the rush of flying down a mountain on a snowboard.

It’s about blazing through a steep half-pipe on a skateboard.

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It’s about thrashing in the mosh pit at a punk-rock concert.

Smith is an anomaly in the conservative world of golf, where country-club types don’t often mix with punk rockers strolling along the fairways.

“I’m not the type to just sit around,” he said. “That’s just how I am. I like to do more extreme type stuff.

“A lot of guys are just like, ‘Golf, golf, golf,’ you know. But that’s not me. I like to do a lot.”

Yet Smith excels at golf, a serene sport that requires a calm disposition and unflagging concentration.

He leads the Foothill League tournament after two of four rounds and has shot par or better in his last four rounds.

Last summer, he won junior tournaments at Anaheim and Lompoc, and he finished in the top 10 at the American Junior Golf Assn. event in New Mexico.

He finished 1997 ranked 11th among Southern California boys after playing in only six tournaments. He was one of four golfers selected to represent the Southern California PGA in the Tennessee Team challenge last summer.

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Smith, who does everything left-handed except brush his teeth, was turned upside down last year when his penchant for high-adrenaline activities resulted in injuries.

Last spring, while watching a friend’s rock band practice, Smith tripped over a guitar cord and tore ligaments in his right wrist. He missed six weeks of golf, including the prestigious Mission Hills American Junior Golf Assn. tournament.

In December, Smith was snowboarding in Mammoth with friends when he hit some ice, causing him to fall and break his tailbone.

“I hit the ice so hard that I just popped back up and rode away,” Smith said. “Nobody even knew I bailed. But then I could just feel it, sharp pain. I was just sitting in the cabin the rest of the time and it was dumping snow. It was pretty upsetting.”

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Smith couldn’t hit a golf ball for a month after the mishap. Three days after he was cleared to practice, he got in a fight at school and broke a knuckle on his left hand.

“That was stupid,” Smith said. “Right after my tailbone started healing. I was starting to come back, starting to hit it pretty well. Then, bam, break my knuckle. Another two months I’m out.”

Smith seems to have learned his lesson. He’s given up skateboarding until after golf season and has not snowboarded since recovering from his injuries, even though he’s dying to try out a new pair of snowboarding boots he got for Christmas.

“I’ve noticed a big change in him since the beginning of the year,” said Dean Smith, Charlie’s father. “He just seems more mature, more directed. And not only in golf, but in school, too.”

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But Dean expects his son’s rowdiness to return.

“He’s always kind of just gone his own way,” Dean said. “His mother and I have encouraged him to do that. But he’s always been a very, very, very good kid. He’s the kind of guy that will hug his mom in public.”

Sandra Smith, the principal at Sulphur Springs Elementary School in Stevenson Ranch, would prefer that her son engage in less dangerous activities than skateboarding and snowboarding, but she’s happy Charlie has interests other than golf.

“I tell him that it’s important to have a well-rounded life,” Sandra said. “Golf is just a part of his life, not his whole life.”

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Having to miss practice cost Smith at the beginning of golf season, but he’s back on track. He considers his injuries less bothersome than other occurrences in the past year.

He bemoaned losing his music collection--about 50 CDs that included Dodger pitcher Scott Radinsky’s punk band Pulley--which were stolen from his car.

Friends say Smith resembles anything but a golfer, considering his regular attire includes baggy jeans, Vans shoes and skateboarder T-shirts.

“You wouldn’t know he was a golfer unless you saw him at the course,” said Brandon Wallace, a Hart golfer and Smith’s best friend. “He doesn’t dress like anyone else in school; he has his own taste. But everyone knows that’s Charlie. He’s just different.”

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Smith presents a totally different image when he plays golf.

“If you see him on the golf course, you’d never imagine he has such a wild side,” said Ryan Wyman, a Hart golfer.

Although Smith enjoys wearing casual clothes at school and in his free time, nothing gets him pumped up for a tournament more than dressing up in spiffy golf garb.

“I do like to look classy on the golf course,” Smith said. “I think a lot of times the way I dress reflects the way I play. Some days when I like my outfit, I honestly go out and play better. I just feel like a pro, I feel like a player.”

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Of course, no matter how nice his shirts and pants are, Smith is always recognizable by his wraparound sunglasses, a sign of his extreme attitude.

“That might have a little to do with it,” Smith said. “But I’ve got to wear them now, I just have to. Even when it’s overcast, they help me see better.”

Smith’s golf game is anything but go-for-broke. He’s not likely to try and make miracles happen with one swing. A layup par suits him just fine.

“Thank God his daring side stays away from the course,” Hart Coach Dennis Ford said. “He’s pretty conservative on the course.”

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Said Smith: “I hate to make a fool out of myself on the course. I remember when I was shooting 80 one time and one of the other dads came up to me and told me, ‘I know you’re not playing well, but I can’t tell you how impressed I am with your attitude and the way you play this game like a gentleman.’ I felt like I shot 65.”

Before matches, Smith prepares with a mellow approach.

“We’ll be on the way to a match and he’ll throw a James Taylor tape on,” Wallace said. “He’s a little off the wall sometimes.”

Off the wall or not, Smith leads Hart with a combination of skill, experience and mental toughness.

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But Hart’s coach has a different idea why teammates respect Smith.

“I think they’re afraid of him,” Ford said.


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