Having Tiger on Your Speed Dial
A chance meeting leads a Wilmington pro to a professional friendship with the King of Swing.
photograph by Tom Nutter
Darius Smith easily recalls the day he was preparing to tee off on the fifth hole at Bay Hill Golf Club in Orlando, Florida, where he was working as an assistant pro, and noticing a figure standing near a cart far down the fairway.
“We thought he was trying to cross the fairway, so we motioned for him to do so,” says Smith, a Wilmington native and the current head golf professional at the Ed “Porky” Oliver Golf Club. “Instead, he waved us on.”
Smith then hit a “beautiful drive” that split the fairway, coming to rest near that individual and his cart. As Smith approached his ball, focusing on his next shot, he heard the voice coming from where the cart was still parked. “Nice drive,” the voice said. Focused on his approach to the green, Smith didn’t respond at first. Then he decided to acknowledge the compliment.
“I was face to face with Tiger Woods,” Darius says, still a look of wonder in his face, almost four years after the experience.
A product of Wilmington’s Urban Youth Golf Program, Darius, now 24, is the first participant in the program to receive a PGA Professional credential. He is currently at the apprentice level, which allows him to participate in select professional tournaments. This summer he plans to compete on one of Florida’s mini-tours.
A talented athlete in football and basketball as a teen, Smith was involved in a serious automobile accident that ended any thoughts of pursuing those sports professionally. After some hesitation over whether or not golf was for him, he joined the Urban Golf program. He liked the game “from the first swing.”
Smith’s most significant success to date, though, may be his relationship with Tiger. Following that chance meeting, he would occasionally meet on the practice tee, where Tiger shared tips on swing and distance. Then over dinner following the Bay Hill Classic that year, Tiger leaned over the table to share something few outsiders become privy to: “He gave me his cell phone number,” Darius says matter-of-factly.
There’s an open-ended invitation for the two to play a practice round together as soon as their schedules permit. After all, Darius and Tiger are only a speed dial apart now. D