By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Kayla Smith accomplished quite a bit by the time North Carolina’s women’s golf season ended last spring.
She wanted more.
So the Williams High School alum has stayed with the Tar Heels for another go-around and she’s excited to see where that takes her.
“I feel like each year I’ve improved on things,” Smith said. “Last year I was able to come to form and really see the results and contend in tournaments.”
So it wasn’t time to move on from Chapel Hill. She has lots going on with a major in exercise and sport science and a minor in neuroscience.
And, of course, the golf.
“I want to win at least a couple more tournaments,” she said. “I love the team. I love the university. That’s a part that I wanted to keep.”
Smith, a fifth-year senior, entered the 2023-24 season as the program’s all-time leader in stroke average at 73.50. Included in that was winning a tournament last year at Texas A&M.
“It’s kind of nice for us this year having Kayla,” North Carolina coach Aimee Neff said. “I’m really thankful that she’s here. She came back. She wants to win. She wants to help us get to medal play in the ACC (Tournament), get to an NCAA regional and get to nationals.”
Smith was North Carolina’s lone golfer on the 15-member All-ACC team for 2023. She became the first Tar Heel in a decade to earn that distinction in multiple seasons. She’s also a two-time member of the Academic All-ACC team.
Smith, a 2019 Williams graduate, had her freshman season with the Tar Heels shortened because of the COVID pandemic. The next season involved a reconfigured and reduced schedule.
“I feel I had missed a lot,” she said. “It’s good to get back in a routine and that’s what I have here. I just think having a place to practice and play is big before I start out and play professionally.”
Winning a college tournament as she did last September puts Smith in a special category.
“At least she knows that she can do that,” Neff said. “She was just always in contention. She just played really solid.”
A wrist injury derailed Smith last spring during the second round of the NCAA regionals. Neff said she hopes time off turned out to be a refresher.
Smith got back in the swing this summer, shooting 1-over par in U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifying at the Country Club of Salisbury. She didn’t advance, but it was a good showing. A similar situation unfolded about a week later in the Women’s North & South Amateur, shooting 75s on both Pinehurst No. 4 and Pinehurst No. 2.
Smith, 22, maintains ties to Alamance Country Club, her home course in Burlington. That’s where she trains under swing coach Heather Hauk.
The improvement is evident.
“Her steadiness, she continues to get better in all things,” Neff said. “She has made adjustments. She’s just a gamer.”
This month, Smith began the fall season by tying for 23rd in the Mary Fossum Invitational at East Lansing, Michigan.
North Carolina will be the host team for the Tar Heel Invitational next month (moved to Governors Club because Finley Golf Club is under renovation) and then visit St. Andrews, Scotland, for three rounds of tournament play later in October. In March, the team will play in a tournament in Hawaii.
Smith said it could shape up as a rewarding final season.
“It’s a good send-off,” Neff said.