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Howard Golfer Wins Jim Thorpe Invitational

Marcus Smith Jr. wins the Jim Thorpe Invitational with a score of 74, emphasizing representation of Black athletes in golf.

Marcus Smith Jr. holding his trophy after winning the Jim Thorpe Invitational. (Photo courtesy of Marcus Smith Jr.)

Marcus Smith Jr. took first place at the Jim Thorpe Invitational, bolstering his resume towards his passion for increasing representation of Black athletes in the sport of golf.

With a score of 74, which gave him a two-shot advantage, the Bison golfer won the tightly contested 36-hole tournament that was condensed into 18 holes due to excessive rainfall. Using the skills learned over the past two seasons with the Howard golf program, Smith was able to grab the win for the Bison.

The student-athlete started his collegiate golf career at Eastern Michigan University in 2020. After not being able to play his freshman year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the golfer honed his skills by playing summer events to prepare for the fall 2021 season. This preparation led to a successful fall season. 

In 2022 he transferred to Howard, playing his first season with the Bison that fall and has been a part of several victories for the program. The men’s team, while he’s been a Bison, has been accomplished with achievements including being named the 2022-2023 Golf Coaches of America (GCAA) All-Academic Team, personally being named the 2023 All-NEC Second Team, and winning the 2023 Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Works Collegiate Men’s Golf Championship.

Smith, a senior psychology major and business administration minor from Rockford, Illinois, credits coach Samuel Puryear for the growth he’s made thus far because of his connection with his athletes on a personal level, and the constant encouragement. 

“You know having a rough start to my college career with COVID, he just helped a lot mentally having someone who believed in me as much as he did,” Smith said. 

Despite the minor setback in his freshman year, the Bison golfer has showcased dedication to excel at the game of golf, which has been noticed by those around him including his coach.

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“I just think he wants to be successful. Golf is what he really really wants to do,” said Puryear, the Howard University director of golf and coach. 

Puryear has equipped the golfer with skills that coincide with embracing his personal playing style and using it to his advantage. 

“My game was heavily around my mentality because I am an emotional player,” Smith said.  “And so you know having Sam Puryear, he’s more focused on the mental aspect, that helped me a lot growing as a player; believing in myself.” 

Since Puryear focuses on the mentality of the game of golf, the Bison golfer has also learned the importance of discipline and self-accountability. He relies on discipline to accomplish his goals and to perfect his technique. 

“Motivation is temporary but discipline lasts,” Smith said when describing his mentality regarding the game of golf.

The win at the tournament was not only an accomplishment of the Bison golfer but also served as an example to young Black golfers that they can play a sport and play it well, despite it being predominantly white.

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Smith’s father, Marcus Smith Sr., spoke to the impact that the success of Howard University golfers has on the sport.

“People do take notice and because of the fact that they take notice of Howard men and other young Black men that are playing golf across the country, how they handle themselves, how they’re conducting themselves;  I do believe that shows that they have the capability, the mannerisms. It shows that they can play the game at that level,” said Smith Sr.

The Jim Thorpe Invitational was named after Jim Thorpe, a Black man with several accolades in the professional golf world, who has set a precedent and been an inspiration to young Black golfers.

Smith understands the impact Jim Thorpe has had on the golf industry which is why winning the tournament was meaningful to him. 

“To win something like that, it feels good,” said Smith. “It gives me that confidence so one day I can be as good as he was.”

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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