As a sophomore, Bridger Smith was putting up scores in the triple digits in his first year on Pocatello’s golf team.
A year later, he shot 162 — over two rounds — to lead the Indians and finish in the top half of the field at the 4A state championships.
Even without a chance to show off his skills as a senior, Smith’s rapid improvement led to him getting an opportunity at the next level, as he signed with Southwestern Oregon Community College on Thursday.
“It’s really exciting to actually have it official,” Smith said. “I showed up shooting 100s, and then by the end, I was just like 4-over, 5-over. I was almost shooting even par everyday. It’s crazy to me how fast I improved. I kind of dedicated myself to the process of getting better.”
Smith was hoping that the 2020 season would definitively show how much he’s improved.
Instead, he played in one tournament before the season was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The guys were like, well, this is basically our district championship, because everything’s going to get cancelled,” Smith said. “Right when that hit me, I didn’t want to believe it.”
An early offer from Walla Walla CC fell through, leaving Smith uncertain about his prospects for playing in college.
“I really honestly believed this was my year, and then it just got taken away,” Smith said. “Once COVID hit, I was like, man, this really sucks. I didn’t prove enough in my junior year to go to college and play golf. ... I was just running out of time, it felt like. Not enough time and not enough tournaments to prove to someone that I could play golf at the next level.”
But Smith and his coach continued reaching out to colleges. Eventually, they got in touch with Southwestern’s coach Ray Fabien, and Fabien came back quickly with an offer.
“He said, ‘Alright, give me an hour and I’ll give you an offer you can’t refuse,’” Smith said. “So it was just really quick, honestly. It was a surprise, but it felt really good, because I was kind of getting nervous about having to stay in town and not being able to golf in college.”
After talking it out with his family, Smith accepted within the week.
He’ll study his gen eds at Southwestern, which is in Coos Bay, Oregon, before hoping to move onto another school to pursue an engineering degree.
First, though, there’s two more years of golf — and if he continues to improve as he has, Smith could find himself with offers from four-year schools after that.
“(I had to work on) pretty much everything,” Smith said. “What I really struggled with was my driver and my putter. Me and my coach would stay after practice, two or three hours. From 4 o’clock, when I got out of school, to 9 o’clock, I was at the golf course, just working constantly."