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February 28, 2020

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Golf has a meaning in Smith's life for this ONU student athlete

He competed in 15 rounds as a freshman, which included the Ohio Athletic Conference Championships

To put it frankly, Ethan Smith didn't think he could hit a golf ball that far. About a decade ago, a-much-younger Smith was hitting balls in his backyard like he had so many times before. 

He flushed a six iron. The ball soared through the southern Ohio air before surprisingly, and unfortunately, striking his neighbor's window. 

"I didn't think I could hit it that far," Smith said.

Smith walked over to his neighbor's house and apologized — fortunately the window didn't break. As funny as the situation sounds, a passion was born on that day. 

"That got me thinking, 'I hit that pretty far,'" Smith said. "I thought, 'Maybe this is something I should keep doing.'"

Smith has enjoyed the golfing grind ever since. He taught himself how to play the game and improve both mentally and physically, and he's currently enjoying a strong start to his junior season at Ohio Northern.

The gift wasn't shiny and it certainly wasn't wrapped in a big extravagant box. But that didn't diminish its importance.

Christmas gift
For Christmas during his eighth-grade year, Smith received a summer membership to his local golf club. He hit the range numerous times, played countless rounds, but simply being out on the course was perhaps the most beneficial aspect of that busy summer. 

"A lot of it was just getting a feel for the mindset of being out on the course," Smith said.

Smith saw rapid growth in his golf game, and much, if not all, of that credit goes to himself. The budding star watched a myriad of Youtube videos dealing with various aspects of the game of golf.

Smith learned how to hit fades and draws. He developed skills on how to become a better ball striker and exercises that would help him shave off strokes on the greens.

"All the tricks of the trade I learned from Youtube," Smith said. "That has been an invaluable tool for me."

Smith continued to improve throughout his high school years. What started as an average in the 90s dropped all the way down to around even par when it came time to graduate.

Enrolled at ONU
Smith found his way to Ada and Ohio Northern by way of his older brother who still attends ONU. Smith reached out to head coach Chad Bucci and a strong player-coach relationship blossomed. 

"I didn't even know what Ohio Northern was until (my brother) came here," Smith said. "Once it was on the radar, I came and visited, really enjoyed it, got in contact with coach Bucci, and everything worked out. The stars aligned in the right direction." 

Smith burst onto the scene and had an immediate impact for the Polar Bears. He competed in 15 rounds as a freshman, which included the Ohio Athletic Conference Championships.

Throughout his freshman season something became very evident about Smith, his mental strength. 

"Having a good mental game is something I preach to the kids all the time, and Ethan has a very good mental game," Bucci said.

Smith has taken to heart one of the fundamental teaching points Bucci has — flipping the bracelet. Each golfer for ONU wears a bracelet, not for style or to count how many steps one has. The bracelet is an integral piece for the Polar Bears, mentally. 

"Any time during a round it's like 'OK, let's start over. It's a new game. Let's see if we can bear down and finish strong,'" Bucci said. "It's a mental thing. I need to start fresh, and the flipping of the bracelet allows me to start fresh." 

Smith has flipped the bracelet a time or two in his career. After registering a scoring average of 83.5 as a freshman, Smith took a little bit of a step back as a sophomore, logging a scoring average of 86.1.

He has since gotten back on track and currently boasts a scoring average of 81.3 with a season-best round of 75. Smith would like to see that average continue to drop as he navigates through the remainder of the fall slate and into the spring. 

Golf has a meaning in Smith's life
While the driving accuracy is important and the ball striking is essential and the putting could always improve, golf has a deeper and more impactful meaning in Smith's life. It has afforded him the opportunity to be a collegiate athlete, grow as a individual and given him friends that he'll always cherish. 

"The camaraderie and all the friendships I've made up here at school have been invaluable," Smith said. 'Whenever you first move up to school, you're moving away from your home, and you don't know anyone. The first thing I was involved in as an organization was the golf team. I now have 40, 50 and maybe even 60 friends that I've made through golf."

The love affair with golf started quite serendipitously for Smith, and has given him a fairway to so much more.