Mount Greylock's Tenley Smith finds second calling on the golf course
WILLIAMSTOWN — Two years ago, golf was something Tenley Smith did now and then for fun with her parents. On Tuesday, the Mount Greylock senior will be a major component of a Mounties squad shooting for a Western Massachusetts championship.
Mount Greylock will compete in Tuesday's Division II Western Mass. tournament at Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, and Smith figures to surprise a lot of people with her play.
This whole journey has been a surprise for the former soccer and lacrosse goalie. A long series of surgeries, highlighted by one of the final ones at the end of last summer, eventually forced Smith to give up her initial passions in favor of a less dangerous extracurricular activity.
"I was born with a birth defect, so I've actually had a lot of surgeries on my nose. The second to last one fell at the end of August, but I really wanted to play a sport in the fall," said Smith after shooting an 84 and placing fifth overall as the lone female competitor at the 2017 Berkshire Classic. "My mom and I decided I needed a non-contact sport that wouldn't get my heart rate up. So, that left golf."
Smith finished out her sophomore year playing soccer and lacrosse at Greylock and then made the hard switch to the links. She wasn't a complete stranger to the sport, having played with her family from time to time, but, as she learned, the switch from leisure-time golfer to student-athlete was a tough one. Her junior year with the team was a bit of a struggle trying to learn the situations and angles that experienced players have down.
"I just take my time more. I really have to hand it to the pro at Taconic, Peter [Egazarian], he really helped me a lot," said Smith, who has a good sense of humor about her entire situation.
"I used to play goalie in both soccer and lacrosse. So, it's funny, the point of both of those was to have balls hit directly at me. But now I've transitioned to golf and throwing shot put, discus and javelin and the point of my sports is to get the ball as far away from me as possible."
The 2016 scores reflected a first-timer, but that was only short-lived. A year later, Smith has worked herself into one of the top golfers in Western Mass. A week before shooting a 13-over 84 at Stockbridge Country Club to place fourth in the Classic, she shot an 88 at Elmcrest Country Club in East Longmeadow at the 2017 Western Mass Girls Golf Championships. Smith placed fourth overall in a field of 16.
"She's progressed a lot this year. Her stroke average has gone down six or seven strokes from last year," said Greylock coach Mitchell Spooner. "She's developed mentally, we talk about positioning and angles. A lot of it she could do physically, she just didn't think that way. She's doing excellent."
Smith has brought a great deal to the Mount Greylock team. After graduating Kyle Alvarez during the offseason, she has been an immediate answer as the team's No. 2 with junior star Ben Gilooly. The Mounties also had a large group come out for Spooner's first year and among the golfers were three younger girls, to whom Smith has become a role model on and off the course.
"We have three young girls on the team," said Spooner. "The biggest thing Tenley has done, not just lowering her score, but when she came in she was the only lady. It was an all-boys thing, so she's been huge in bridging that gap and showing those younger kids what a senior girl can do, showing them how to play. She's done excellent in a leadership and mentoring role, which in turn has helped her concentrate more, knowing that kids are looking up to her."
One of those youngsters, Lilli Defrietas, joined Smith at the girls tournament, shooting a 110. Also competing was Lenox's Emma Butler (100) and Wahconah's Victoria Orlandi (109).
"I felt really bad, actually. I was kind of sick and it wasn't my best round, but it was a great tournament because I don't get to play with girls at all, ever," said Smith. "It was nice to just come to a tournament where we we're all there for the same reason, to play golf. It was great to see everyone at something like that."
With the surgeries now in her past — her last doctor's appointment was scheduled for early October — an excited Smith has some time to look back and forward on what she has accomplished and still hopes to. She does want to continue pursing golf at the college level, while looking to study something in the humanities and get a liberal arts experience.
"I came in pretty late, but they're all nice kids. It's a very welcoming sport and a true meritocracy," said Smith of her teammates. "If you can make it in golf, you can make it on any team."
Towards the end of the regular season, on Oct. 6, Smith shot a four-over 39 on the front 9 at Cranwell to co-medalist with Gilooly. She birdied the 385-yard par 5 second hole. As Spooner says, she hears the "you hit far for a girl" comments all the time. But, there's a lot more to Smith than her gender, and with a sweet stroke that has caught the eye of county coaches all season long, she's got a good chance to continue silencing them in Lenox.
"She's improved greatly," said Gilooly. "It's always fun to see someone older come out and try something new. She got it right away, though. It's crazy how quickly she improved and she's had a great year. She's brought a lot of character to the team as well."
A year ago, Smith shot a 102 at Crestview Country Club in Agawam at the Division II Western Mass tournament. Today at Cranwell, she'll have a chance to blow that score out of the water and continue setting an example for those to come.
Reach sports writer Mike Walsh at 413-496-6240 or @CLNS_Walsh.
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