Kristie Smith has rediscovered her love of golf again, and the results are coming.
The 24-year-old from Perth is the leading Australian contender in the ISPS Handa Australian Open at 10-under par after a second, consecutive 68 at Royal Canberra today, vaulting on to a leaderboard currently dominated by Jiyai Shin and Lydia Ko.
Not so long ago the former amateur superstar was back in Perth, working a day job in the pro shop at Wembley Golf Club and pondering whether she ever wanted to take up the touring life again.
"I didn't want to get out of bed and play golf,'' she said. "I tossed and turned each night about if this was what I wanted to do. If you're in the spotlight again it urges you on to keep going. I went back, got a job, did the whole normal life for about four or five months. It made me realise a few things. I've got the best job in the world and I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can.''
Fortunately she has come through the hard times, picking up Simon Clarke as her caddie, the man who collates the yardage books for the Australian women's tour, and who carried the bag for Jessica Korda when she won the Open at Royal Melbourne this time last year. Previously she had mostly used father Wayne Smith, a former touring pro, as her caddie.
"He (Clarke) is the best caddie I've ever had,'' Smith said. "I shouldn't really say that, because dad (Wayne, a former touring pro) will be a bit offended, but I've always wanted him on my bag. He's hard to get, that's for sure, but he seems to keep me quite level-headed out there and have a bit of a laugh as we go around, which is nice.''
Mind coach Sean Lynch has been another valuable addition to her team in the past 12 months. Smith said she had battled anxiety at times, and was "out of control with my mind'' on the course. Travelling to America to follow her dream, her results were poor. "I was putting too much pressure on myself,'' she said.
Lynch has urged her to find the fun side of the game again, "like I did when I was an amateur''.
Today's 68 might well have been better. A three-putt after finding the greenside trap at the par-three 13th hole gave her a double bogey. But six birdies and an eagle at the par-five sixth hole cleaned up her scorecard nicely. "I probably hit the ball better yesterday. I scrapped it around today, didn't hit it as solid but I putted fantastically.
"I knew it was coming. I've been swinging it good. Having my team here this week has been nice. I'm on a golf course I love. It suits my eye.''
Smith, who expects to return to the US soon to play the secondary tour and Monday qualifying rounds for the LPGA, won the Royal Canberra Classic here last year.
The other local in the mix is Queenslander Sarah Jane Smith, 28, who carded a second-round 70 to reach eight-under par.
"I've been playing all right. I had a different lead up to this year's summer and every week has been a little bit better. Hopefully I'm peaking at the right time,'' said the woman from Caloundra. "I seem to sneak by all the time. But I've played all right out here. Just never had that really good week out here in Australia. It'd be nice to do it here.''
Sarah Jane Smith has her husband Duane on her bag, but there were no major celebrations for Valentine's Day earlier this week. ''I got a very beautiful card but we said we're going to do Valentine's (Day) next week.''
Four-time champion Karrie Webb has had a surprisingly slow week at Royal Canberra, the veteran carding a one-over-par 74 today. Webb is one-under par for the tournament and was 13 shots from the lead held by Jiyai Shin of South Korea when she signed her card, with first-round leader Lydia Ko still on the course and threatening to go lower than Shin's 14-under.