Brian Smock tried to play his way into the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open in a Monday qualifying tournament.
He trudged along the long Torrey Pines South Course with him and his 7-year-old son, Ty. Watching his dad crush drives, tuck into wedges and sink curling putters struck a chord.
“I was kind of hooked,” Ty Smock said.
15 years old now, Ty hits the ball 280 yards off the tee right next to his dad and is developing into a junior golfer with a sky’s-the-limit future. When the IMG Academy Junior World Championships begin Tuesday across the county, Smock will be one of the newcomers to watch in the 15-18 division at Torrey Pines South.
Despite just turning 15 last month, Smock is the No. 1 ranked player in the San Diego Junior Golf Association’s boys 15-18 division. In 11 tournaments, he has placed nine top-10 positions, five in the top four.
“Every once in a while I’ll see him hit a shot and you’re like, ‘Oh my God!'” said Brian Smock, the head pro at Coronado Golf Course. “Every few months you can see that something has improved.”
Raised in Coronado, Brian was drawn to golf after watching his uncle, Ernie Gonzalez, forge a five-year PGA Tour career from 1985-89. Gonzalez won the 1986 Pensacola Open, becoming the first left-hander to win on Tour in 12 years.
“Kind of like I (see) my uncle, (Ty) really got into it,” Brian said. “The next thing I know, he’s asking me to drop him off (at the course) before school to practice.”
Brian Smock played on the Nationwide Tour (now the Korn Ferry Tour) for more than 10 years, earning five runner-up finishes. He qualified for the PGA Championship twice and holds the Coronado Golf Course record with a score of 60.
Said Ty, who will be a freshman at Coronado High School next month: “He knows a little bit about this game.”
Brian Smock didn’t want to be the overbearing, golf pro father who suffocates his child. Instead, he took more of a supporting role and let Ty gravitate to the game. Instead of treating his son to regular tee times, Brian made Ty sign up on the waiting list at Coronado with other golfers.
Sometimes the wait was two hours, Ty left time on the course, the putting green or just hanging out.
“He had to learn to be around adults (in playgroups),” Brian said. “I’d try to check on him after nine (holes), make sure he ate. It’s a long walk. Sometimes I’d forget about him and my wife wouldn’t be too happy.
“It’s important to let them have their own space and learn on their own, learn from their mistakes.”
Brian taught Ty the basics of stance, grip and course control, but has turned over technical instruction since last October to San Diegan Chris Mayson. Mayson teaches players on the PGA, LPGA and LIV tours, including Brandan Steele, Scott Piercy and Alison Lee.
Of Ty’s swing, Mayson said, “I’ve been teaching the best players in the world for about 20 years and very rarely have I seen someone with that kind of flow. He has a beautiful cadence to the swing that’s very wide and powerful. I don’t want say he moves like Rory McIlroy, but it’s very similar.”
Ty is 5-foot-7 and weighs 125 pounds. With one driver, his clubhead speed has been measured at 116 mph. According to Golf Digest, the average clubhead speed of the PGA Tour player is 115.21 mph.
“He has all the tools to take the game far,” Mayson said.
In the most talented field Ty has ever faced, he shot a 2-over 74 in US Open qualifying at Crystalaire Country Club in Llano last May. He was still 14 years old and just missed the final qualifying spot by five strokes.
Despite a bogey-double-bogey-bogey start, he rallied to play 2-under the rest of the round. Asked how he reversed the bleeding, Ty pointed to the person carrying his clubs.
“She told me just keep calm, maybe something will come back,” he said.
Another example of Ty’s improvement: A few months ago, he beat Brian when he played the back nine at San Diego Country Club.
“Shooted an easy 32,” Brian said of Ty’s score.
Both father and son know it’s only a matter of time before Ty beats him over 18 holes.
“It’s coming,” Ty said. “I’ll beat him soon.”
55th IMG Academy Junior World Championships
What: More than 1,200 golfers representing 53 countries and 42 states compete in junior golf’s most prestigious event.
When: Tuesday to Thursday
Access: For free
Where are we going: Boys and Girls 6-under (Sycuan Resort, Pine Glen Course); Boys 7-8 (Sycuan Resort, Oak Glen Course); Girls 7-8 (Sycuan Resort, Pine Glen Course); Boys 9-10 (Shadowridge Golf Club); Girls 9-10 (Sycuan Resort, Oak Glen Course); Boys 11-12 (Morgan Run Resort); Girls 11-12 (The Heights Golf Club); Boys 13-14 (Arrowwood Golf Course); Girls 13-14 (Country Club of Rancho Bernardo); Boys 15-18 (Torrey Pines South); Girls 15-18 (Torrey Pines North).
Away from golf, Ty enjoys fishing in San Diego Bay and cruising the Coronado on his electric bike with friends.
“Kids need it,” Brian Smock said. “You can’t just play golf and sit in your room and do homework.”
Make no mistake, the kid is competitive. When asked about his goals for the Junior Worlds, it didn’t matter to Ty that he just turned 15 and will be playing against some 18-year-olds going to college.
“I want to win,” he said.
As Smock sat on the outdoor patio at Coronado Golf Course, the bridge, ships and jet skis in the postcard backdrop, Ty was asked about his father’s low-key approach to his golf.
“It just takes all the pressure off my shoulders,” he said. “Just go out there, play and have a good time.”