Hannah Smith has been around golf since she was 5 years old. She grew up playing alongside her grandfather, who taught her to love the game. Smith quickly turned into an avid golfer.
When she enrolled at Calaveras High School last year as a freshman, Smith was eager to hit the links and represent her school.
There’s only one problem: Calaveras doesn’t have a girls’ golf team.
So, with no girls’ golf team for Smith to join in the fall, she waited a few months and joined the boys’ team in the spring. Now, in her second year of playing on the boys’ golf team at Calaveras, Smith went from standing out because she was a girl, to standing out because she’s one of the top players on the course.
“You have to remember, she was on the team last year as a freshman, and as a freshman, being a girl on a boys’ team can be overwhelming at times,” Calaveras head coach Rick Behler said. “It’s tough enough as a freshman playing against seniors, let alone senior guys. She got accustomed to it and accustomed to playing with the guys on our team. And this year she has really taken off and improved and I think a lot of that has to do with the confidence of being out there before and knowing what’s going on. Now, it’s just playing golf.”
Of course, Smith would have liked to play on a girls’ team, but she’s quickly proving that her love for the sport and drive has helped her fit right in with her male counterparts.
“I’m sad that there’s no girls’ team, but I always knew that I’d still be able to play, it would just be with the boys,” Smith said. “I was OK with that, but it’s been really challenging. Last year I felt a lot of pressure on me. I was scared last year, but this year I’m used to playing with the guys, so it really doesn’t bother me anymore.”
This isn’t the first time Smith has been the lone female on the course. Growing up, she would play with her grandfather and, oftentimes, his friends would join them. As a young child, Smith knew that she didn’t want to look bad or out of place in front of so many seasoned golfers.
“My grandfather got me interested in the sport,” Smith said. “I would go out and play with him. Sometimes we’d go out and play 18 holes with his friends and they were all a lot older than me. It was hard because I felt a lot of pressure on me because I was so young, so I wanted to play really, really well.”
That same pressure to play well surrounded Smith last year as a freshman. And in her first year of playing on a boys’ team, she had to adjust to teeing off from the white tees, which are further back than the red tees, where girls typically take their first swing.
“That can be a bit of a factor, but she hits the ball far,” Behler said. “Obviously, if she was playing from the closer tees, her scores would be even better. But she’s right there driving with a lot of the guys.”
Smith added, “Last year was the first time I ever played from the whites, so it was really weird having to play from so far back, as opposed to where I would normally be hitting from. It’s still challenging, but I’m a lot more used to it now, but last year it really scared me.”
Now in her sophomore season, Smith is starting to find her swing. She has twice shot a 49 on a par-35 out at La Contenta Golf Club in Valley Springs. In five overall matches, Smith is shooting an average of 52.
“She’s a lot more consistent and she’s hitting the ball a lot straighter, so she’s keeping out of trouble,” Behler said. “But all aspects of her game have improved. She’s hitting it further; she’s putting better and chipping better and is playing smarter golf. Already this year, I can see that we aren’t seeing those wild swings, where last year she might have a good round and then a really high round. Now, when she doesn’t have all of her game together, she’s still putting up a really good score.”
And even on a good day, Smith feels there’s always room for improvement.
“She seems pretty confident with how she plays,” Behler said. “Yesterday (March 10) she had a decent round (51), but she wasn’t happy about it and I like that. That shows the competitive fire that she has.”
Smith hopes to one day play golf in college. That might be her first time actually getting to play with and against female competitors. Until then, she’ll continue to play with the boys and prove that she belongs.
“I think it’s awesome to say that I get to play with the boys,” Smith said. “It would be cool to play with the girls, too, but I’m honored to get to play on this team.”