The Buffalo News polled sports staffers as to the top 10 male and female athletes from Western New York. Here’s No. 2 among women:
Name: Lancy Smith.
High School: Amherst.
Born: Jan. 4, 1948.
Update: 68, retired, member at Park Country Club.
Career overview: Smith was born into a golfing family and eventually became the most accomplished amateur player to ever come out of Western New York. She learned the game from her father, William, starting at age 8, and won her first New York State Golf Association championship 10 years later. That started a career that spanned nearly 40 years and included seven NYSGA championships, 16 Women’s Buffalo District Golf Association championships and four victories in the Women’s Eastern Amateur, among many more. Smith also represented her country on the U.S. team in the international Curtis Cup five times as a player between 1972-84.
Golf Digest ranked Smith among the top 10 amateurs in the country 14 times from 1970-86, including No. 1 for part of 1980. Smith’s dominance was accepted among her opponents – who admitted to playing for second place. “It’s like winning if you finish second because nobody expects to beat Lancy,” said Clare Moeschler after Smith’s 15th WBDGA championship in 2001.
Memorable moment I: The crowning achievement of Smith’s career came in 1994, when she was elected captain of the U.S. Curtis Cup team.
“Representing your country, that’s about as high of an honor as you can get,” Smith said. “To be captain of the team, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
With Smith leading the way, the U.S. tied Great Britain and Ireland, 9-9, although that meant GB&I kept possession of the cup.
“She is a keen competitor and a good sport, and has been a terrific representative of her country as a player,” United States Golf Association executive committee member Judy Bell told The Buffalo News of Smith’s selection as captain.
Memorable moment II: Smith’s first state women’s amateur championship came when she defeated Alberta “B” Bower in the match-play final in 1966. Bower was a highly decorated amateur player who would later win the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur.
“I was nervous playing in the final,” Smith said. “I was just a kid. I remember at least three times I got up to hit and it wasn’t my turn. … She was very nice and just gently reminded me, ‘I don’t think you’re up.’ She was very gracious. That could have been a bad experience, but it ended up being a very good one.”
Mentally tough: At just 5-foot-3, Smith was used to opponents who could drive the ball farther than her. But whatever physical advantages she lacked, Smith’s mental fortitude made up the difference.
“I don’t think I made a lot of unforced errors,” she said. “Maybe I played too conservatively at times. I’d settle for a bogey and try to make it up with a birdie. I thought my way around the golf course. I wasn’t the best putter, but I didn’t miss short ones. It got me by.”
That’s an understatement for a player who participated in 15 U.S. Women’s Opens. Smith is also a member of both the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and Western New York PGA Hall of Fame.
State recognition: Last October Smith was inducted into the New York State Golf Association Hall of Fame.
“It’s a real honor to get into your state Hall of Fame,” Smith told The News at the time. “I still remember the first state title I ever won. I had such a good experience – the officials were so friendly and so nice. As a kid, if you go to something like that and they’re not like that, you might never play again. So I’m really grateful they gave me a good start.”
Perfectly content: Although Smith had the game to attempt it, she never made a run at a professional career.
“I’ve always done a lot of other things,” she said. “I used to ski in the winter. I love to hunt and fish. I like to do other things. I didn’t want to just play golf, and if you’re going to be at the top, you’ve got to do just that. Growing up in Buffalo, there was a golf season, and then there was an off-season, so I grew up doing other things.
“I never played for the accolades,” she said. “I played to prove to myself how good a player I could become. That was all. I didn’t play so I could stand up on stage and say ‘Look what I did.’ I wanted to compare myself to the best, and I had a chance to do that.”