Athlete of Week: Knaffle has hot summer on links

Remember those pesky first day of school assignments “What I did on my summer break” essays? St. James High junior golfer and Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week Smith Knaffle could write a novel about her experiences over the past two months.

“It really flew by,” Knaffle said via phone from Iowa, the latest stop on a summer golf tour that has taken her all over the Southeast. “Playing in so many tournaments against so many great players and getting to travel so much has been an incredible experience.”

In addition to her usual hectic schedule of local and regional junior tournaments, Knaffle managed to qualify for three major national events – the Girls Junior PGA Championship in St. Louis, MO, the Big I national tournament in Madison, MS, and the US Girls Junior Championship in Augusta, Mo.

The latter turned out to be Knaffle’s biggest splash on the national golf scene, joining 156 of the top juniors in the world – and proving she belonged. She qualified in the top 64 to advance to match play, and defeated a highly ranked opponent in the first round before falling shy of the Sweet 16.

“That was really big for me because there were so many great players there from all over,” Knaffle said. “I had a lot of confidence going in. I always felt like I could play at that level; it was just a matter of getting the opportunity. I’m glad I got the chance to compete at that level and show what I could do.”

But Knaffle’s biggest moment of the summer might have happened off the course. Her impressive play on the junior circuit and already incredible high school career had attracted lots of interest from colleges. Knaffle used the summer to settle the recruiting questions by committing to her dream school – the University of South Carolina.

“I’ve always been a Gamecocks fan and I love the school and the program,” Knaffle said. “Coach Anderson and Blackmon (USC head coach and director of golf development) have been there a long time and they showed a lot of interest in me. I’m really looking forward to going to South Carolina.”

But first Knaffle has a more immediate goal of completing a rare team and individual feat with the Lady Sharks. The two-time state champion and medalist begins her dual title defenses this fall, and her ultimate goal is to finish high school with a dual sweep of four team and individual state crowns.

“We’ve got a good chance of winning it this year,” said Knaffle, whose Lady Sharks open play in Saturday’s Aynor Lady Blue Jacket Invitational. “But my senior year, when (teammate) Jordan White is gone and we move up (to Class 5A) will be a lot harder, but it gives us something to shoot for.”

Look for Smith to have more happy summers and seasons to come.

Photo courtesy of USGA

 

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