Sam Smith announced to the world he'd settle for nothing less than a state golf title.
After all, he had accomplished everything else at Turlock High: Four straight Central California Conference championships, three Sac-Joaquin Section titles and two straight Section Masters titles.
The script had been written, but there's a funny thing about golf -- it doesn't always follow the script.
Smith's career didn't end in state-title glory at Poppy Hills. It ended last month in a wind tunnel at The Reserve at Spanos Park. His 77, a decent score given the three-club gale blowing that day, nevertheless gave him fourth place at the Section Masters and a ticket home for good.
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Many teenagers would have thrown a fit. So would more than a few ambition-driven parents. To some, he had set himself up to fail.
Smith's reaction? He shook the winner's hand, smiled and doffed his cap.
"It summarizes who Sam is," Turlock coach Ben Culala said. "Sure he was disappointed, but to him it was just another scorecard. He understands what golf is about. I couldn't have been more proud."
Smith's polish, shining even in defeat, did nothing to tarnish his standing as the best Stanislaus District player since Matt Bettencourt in the early 1990s. It's also why Smith, who will tee it up for USC in a few short months, is The Bee's Boys Golfer of the Year for the third straight year.
Make no mistake, Smith dearly wished to put his name alongside Bettencourt, Turlock's Joey Rassett and Manteca's Kevin Wentworth, all former state high school champions.
"Initially, I was frustrated," he said. "Then I realized I got plenty more ahead of me. It was just another tournament. I reflected on it and then I moved on."
Which is exactly how advanced players react to a tough day.
"I'm still certain that Sam is the best high school player in Northern California and one of the best in the state," Culala said. "That's why he's going to USC."
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Smith and his Turlock High teammates never lost a CCC duel in four years. This season, the Bulldogs went 19-0 as Smith -- stronger and longer off the tee -- again averaged below par.
Someday, he'll look back fondly on his twin Masters championships, secured by a 66 at Sierra View as a sophomore and a wind-whipped 70 at Stevinson Ranch last year. His 65 this year in the CCC tournament at Creekside was one of the best postseason scores in Northern California.
"I make better choices on the course than when I was younger. I think my shots through," he said. "Getting stronger was a big deal, too, but I just wanted to be in better shape period. It also made me a better golfer. The timing was good."
His additional yardage off the tee, the result of weight training and attention to diet the past year, will serve him well at USC. He'll warm up for his freshman year with a busy summer -- the California Amateur next month, the Pacific Coast Amateur, a few Northern California Golf Association events, the Scratch Players Championship and, finally, a second straight trip to the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills (he qualified for match play in 2008).
At USC, he enters a program that has produced three NCAA individual champions -- including two-time winner Scott Simpson -- but no team finish higher than third.
The courses the Trojans call home are a golfer's dream -- Trump National, Riviera, Los Angeles CC, Wilshire and Bel-Air. "My first goal is to win at least one national championship as a team," Smith said. "I also want to be an All-American."
As we've seen, Smith sets the bar high.
"I got four conference titles and the MVP every year," he summarized. "I didn't do exactly what I wanted, but I'm pleased."
Bee sports writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.