C.J. Smith approached the final green at Piney Branch Golf Club on Monday with a chance to cement an already impressive performance.
Facing a birdie putt of more than 10 feet, the soon-to-be South Carroll senior's attempt ran too far to the right. Able to still make par, his subsequent shot rode around the rim of the cup and stayed out.
The bogey closed out a 71 on the day — still seven shots ahead of the second-place finisher in the Junior Tour of Maryland event. Smith bit into his towel as he fished his ball out of the hole, stuck around for the rest of his group to finish their round as well, and shook hands.
"That definitely did not make me happy. I think [in the past] I would have stormed off the green and been mad at myself," Smith said. "I just said, 'Oh well. Everyone's going to have a bad hole, and mine just happened to be on the 18th.' You have to look at it like that."
The cool and calm demeanor is a part of Smith's outlook on golf this season. After winning Times Player of the Year honors last fall, he's gone onto even more success during his summer play.
Though tournament wins are coming at a higher rate — Monday's was his fifth since school ended — the confidence he's building isn't rooted in cockiness or high expectations.
Smith has collected MAPGA tour victories at the US Naval Academy Golf Classic and the Laytonsville Golf Club Classic, as well as a Junior win at Challendon in the South Carroll Invitational. On Thursday, he qualified for the MGPGA Capitol Cup, which pits the top-10 golfers on the tour in Maryland against the top-10 in Virginia. That tournament will be Aug. 16 and 17 at Turf Valley Golf Course in Ellicott City.
As he gains more confidence on the course, Smith said he's grown more comfortable going toe-to-toe with some of the state's best. But, without that newly found emotional steadiness he's added to his repertoire, to go along with another 35 yards off the tee from work in the gym, his overall game has evolved since his breakout junior season.
"Going into this year, I feel confident, especially mentally," he said. "I'm not going to let stuff bother me anymore, and so I should be able to put up some good numbers. And if I don't play as well as I did last year, I'll work through it. I don't feel, like, pressure to shoot really good scores."
When Smith entered high school, his size didn't scare many. As he grew into his body, the iron play he was forced to develop paired nicely with additional strength he gained.
Smith has always been methodical on the course. Even in times where he finds himself in a bit of trouble in the rough or even a bunker, there was always a way for him to recover with ease.
"He's one of those kids who, when I watch him play, I'm not crossing my fingers and toes when he's got a 5-footer," South Carroll golf coach Matt Joseph said.
Though Joseph thinks that the golfer's attitude on the course has always been appropriate, Smith said the struggle was internal. Often times after bogeys, his confidence would wane, and he'd string together another few bad holes.
Now, he said those little mistakes that cost his score to rise motivate him to get those strokes back on the next hole.
"When I kind of got my mental game under control, that was the turning point," Smith said. "[It was] when I really started to feel confident. When I got to the point when I wasn't getting really angry, and I wasn't making doubles and triples. I was just making bogeys and then backing them up with birdies, that's the point where I feel like I can play really well."
During Monday's victory, Smith's neon orange Under Armour polo was recognizable from hundreds of yards away. It's the same outfitter that sponsors one of his favorite golfers at the moment, Jordan Spieth.
Not much older than Smith, the 2015 Master's and U.S. Open champion is lauded for his ability to keep his cool under pressure, making the difficult putts look easy thanks, in part, to his level head.
Smith, still in the college selection process, said he'll continue to look up to Spieth and his "ridiculously good" mental game as the tournaments gain more importance in the next few weeks and months.
"Before, it was almost a little overwhelming, seeing those numbers being put up," he said. "Now I'm at the place where I think I can be contending with the top players."