Smylie Kaufman on his first win (and why his grandmother scolded him)

When it comes to Smylie Kaufman’s first (and only) PGA Tour victory, maybe his late grandmother should have received some of the credit.

Kaufman, aided by a victory on the Tour’s United Leasing Championship in May 2015, earned his PGA Tour card for the 2015-16 season, which started at the Open at Silverado. Kaufman tied for 10th. That was a big boost, as that top 10 helped his priority ranking, meaning he had less pressure on him to perform the following week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.

Kaufman told the story of that first PGA Tour victory (which came in just his fifth PGA Tour start) to GOLF senior writer Dylan Dethier in the most recent episode of Breakthroughyou can watch in full here — but that win might not have happened without his grandmother setting him straight.

As Kaufman tells it, it was late in the day early in the tournament when he chunked a chip on the 16th hole. Then came the fire.

Smylie Kaufman and Jordan Spieth played in the final round of the 2016 Masters. That's when things changed for Kaufman.
Smylie Kaufman’s Masters changed him. Just not how you’d expect
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“I was mad, I was stomping,” he said. “I was cussing.”

His grandparents and his girlfriend (now his wife) were the only people watching him at the time.

“My grandmother, I think it was the next day, she came up to me and said, ‘You gotta start acting better,'” Kaufman said. “She would never really say anything to me like that, unless it needed to be said. Her words, when she did speak, they carried a lot of weight.”

Kaufman said he’s not sure if that talk with his grandma changed his outcome at the Shriners, but it is one of his most vivid memories from that week in Vegas. He said he was essentially going through the motions, not playing great but not playing poorly (67-72-68). He was seven off the lead with 18 holes to play.

Kaufman knew it wasn’t realistic that he’d win — “there were a lot of guys [teeing off] behind us,” he joked — but something clicked that Sunday.

“I absolutely striped it,” he said. “Absolutely striped it. I was only one under through seven holes, where I felt like I could have been six or seven under through those holes.”

After a birdie on 8, Kaufman and his caddie were waiting for the green to clear on the par-5 9th. They glanced at the scoreboard and talked about the wind.

“And [my caddie] said, ‘I think we still have something to say about this tournament,'” Kaufman said. “I’m like, ‘I’ll have what you are having.’ [Laughs] Winning wasn’t even on my radar by any means. Then I think the last 11 holes I was nine under or something. Kind of blacked out a little bit.”

Kaufman eagled 15 and said a TV camera showed up when he was in the 16th fairway at TPC Summerlin. That’s when he knew he was on the verge of something special.

“I think most people at that time, if you are a rookie, when the cameras show up you’d be like, ‘Wait, do I have a shot to win this thing?'” he said. “For me, when the cameras showed up I was like, ‘Alright, lights are on. Let’s go. You are built for this.'”

Kaufman’s back-nine 29 was good for a 10-under 61. He then waited around the clubhouse for about two hours to see if his 16-under total would hold up. It did.

For more from Kaufman, including his mistake in U.S. Open prep, playing in the final pairing on Masters Sunday (and the movie he watched beforehand), the frustrations he dealt with while trying to find his game and more, click on the YouTube link below.

Josh Berhow Editor

As’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at