NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — A tanned face behind dark sunglasses and a black T-shirt under a white bib made Ryan Smith part of a PGA Tour caddy at the Hero World Challenge.
Looping for Tony Finau is a break from his day job, and Smith only briefly missed his regular routine when he considered the calendar. The owner of the Utah Jazz will remember a home game Friday night against the Boston Celtics.
Even then, he could not miss the opportunity.
Finau’s regular caddy, Mark Urbanek, is at home as his wife prepares to have a baby. Finau and Smith have been longtime friends in Salt Lake City, which neither of them seem to remember.
“He calls me and he’s like, ‘Brother, I need to have tea for you.’ I had to answer the bell, right?” Smith said his boss for weeks asked to sit a shot away from the lead over the weekend after he rolled for 6-under 66 in an 18-foot birdie putt.
“When Tony calls, you go. He doesn’t ask for much.”
The Jazz defeated the Celtics 137-130 in Smith’s absence.
This is not his first time inside the ropes in a tournament. Finau and Smith have been two-time partners in the Dunhill Lynx Championship, a three-course rotation that allows Smith to take on Barry Byrne in Carnoustie and Road Hole in St Andrews.
“I have been next to him as an amateur partner when he is in contention on the Old Course, so I am well aware of his game and his temperament,” Smith said. “It’s the perfect setup.”
Smith reached the top of the stairs next to the scoring room as Finau stepped inside to sign his card at the Albany Golf Club. It was more work than play, but he was loving it.
“With a bag about 50 pounds, I think everyone thinks I’m on vacation,” he said. “It’s hard work. I’m tired.”
Smith is the co-founder of Qualtrix, a cloud-computing company in Utah, which was sold three years ago to German software firm SAP for $8 billion. The 44-year-old then became the majority owner of Jazz a year earlier.
Basketball has been a lifelong passion, and so has golf.
“I had a stepfather who is no longer with us, but he inspired me to go golfing,” Smith said. “When I was 14, I worked on the golf course, picking up balls on the range and then just loving it. In my 20s, I was like, ‘Okay, you gotta sit down and watch Will be what your things. And golf is one of my things.”
Even as he was building the Qualtrics, Smith spent enough time on his game to reach the 2nd handicap index. With Finau playing the Dunhill Lynx in 2018 and 2019, he has been at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am alongside players such as Brandon Grace and Josh Teeter.
Smith won the Jack Lemmon Award at Pebble in 2019, which gives an amateur the most assists to his supporter. He and Teeter finished third in the Pro-Am.
“It’s like playing and playing the NBA Precision game,” Smith said.
As much as he loves competition, Smith finds enormous value in relationships through golf, not to mention a little peace and quiet.
“Some great business relationships and the best partners I’ve ever met on the golf course. If not for this sport our paths would not have crossed anyhow,” he said. “And this is where I go where the phone stays in the bag, which is incredible.
“My wife says, ‘You need yoga.’ I tell him my yoga is golf.”
Smith plays basketball as much as he golfs with Finau, one of the more popular players on the PGA Tour. Finau ended a drought that spanned 142 tournaments over five years when he won The Northern Trust to start the PGA Tour postseason.
That victory made Finau a shoo-in to be selected for the Ryder Cup team, where he teamed up with Harris English during a record loss by the Americans at Whistling Straits.
It’s a good way to end a big year – a 20-man field of elite players, a $3.5 million purse and $1 million to the winner. Finau says that his billionaire friend will be treated like his regular caddy.
“He’s taking an exorbitant pay cut, I know that,” Finau told Golf Channel. “It’s a fun atmosphere and the perfect tournament to bring Ryan along.”