What a difference a year makes.
Saturday night, after completing his round at the World Golf Championships in Miami, Smylie Kaufman went to dinner with a longtime friend he met playing junior golf, Jordan Spieth.
The two caught up and played credit card roulette for the bill, where everyone at the table puts their card in a hat and the last one drawn pays the bill.
Kaufman lost, but didn’t mind.
“This time last year I was playing mini tour events, so it’s kind of cool to see what can happen in a year,” Kaufman said Monday as the keynote speaker the United Leasing & Finance Championship Media Day.
This week, he’s off to Augusta National to begin preparation for the Masters Tournament, which is about a month away.
Spieth won the major championship in 2015, while Kaufman, 24, was trying to make a name for himself on the Web.com Tour. He’s since earned his PGA Tour card and is ranked No. 7 in the FedExCup standings.
“It’s been a whirlwind year for me, but it kind of all started here in Evansville,” Kaufman said.
He earned his first professional victory in 2015 at Victoria National Golf Club, when he won the United Leasing Championship by a tournament-record five strokes. The win boosted his confidence, because it solidified that he could perform at the highest level.
Especially at Victoria National, which Kaufman said is one of the best golf courses he’s played.
“It is the best golf course on the Web.com Tour. It’s not even close,” he said. “This golf course really belongs on the PGA Tour – it tests every single aspect of your game.”
He didn’t have status when he began the tournament. Kaufman was simply happy to be in Evansville with a chance to compete after missing the cut when he played the course as a kid.
The win served as a springboard for the rest of his season, though he missed the cut at four of his next five tournaments. He eventually learned how to deal with outsiders’ expectations.
Kaufman finished the year sixth on the money list to earn his 2016 PGA Tour card. In his second PGA Tour event, he won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas on Oct. 25.
“It’s incredible when you think about it, a year ago he was competing for this championship,” said Dan Glod, the Web.com Tour chief of operations.
The Web.com Tour served as an adjustment period for Kaufman to play at the highest level.
He played at LSU before graduating in 2014, but college was different atmosphere. As a professional, Kaufman needed to learn how to prepare from Monday to Wednesday when he’s traveling every week.
Monday, however, will be his only stop in Evansville this year. He won’t be back for the United Leasing and Financing Championship from April 25-May 1.
Instead, the PGA Tour member will be watching the action on TV.
“I wish I could come back, but I’m kind of happy where I’m at,” he said.