Panthers senior will compete at end of month in California

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FARMINGTON — River Smalley soon will embark on a journey few young golfers have experienced: playing at Pebble Beach.

The Piedra Vista senior will be among 81 young competitors from across the nation at the Pure Insurance Championship Impacting The First Tee, a PGA Champions Tour event, Sept. 28-30 in Pebble Beach, California.

He then to turned to teammates Trey and Tyler Diehl to pick their brains on their experience at the event last year.

“We talked about it a lot when they came back. They just told me it’s going to be the greatest week I’ve ever had. I can’t wait for it,” Smalley said. “I couldn’t be any more excited getting to play with a senior tour member on the champions tour. It’s going to be awesome. Every golfer wants the chance to play at Pebble Beach.”

Smalley said he consulted the Diehl brothers about how hard he should be swinging the ball playing at sea level.

The Diehls told Smalley how additional moisture and cooler temperatures in that part of California this time of year will shorten distances.

“I’ve been practicing a lot hitting those knock-down shots to a specific distance with a higher (numbered) club than normal,” Smalley said.

Smalley also said his participation in recent events like the Antigua National High School Invitational in Chandler, Arizona, helped him become more battle tested for the bigger stages.

Smalley said even if he doesn’t have one of his better days on the course, that experience in Arizona reminded him he’s capable of going at it with some of the top players.

“Seeing that good competition’s going to help my game be sharper in the long run,” Smalley said.

Smalley looks to use the Piedra Vista Invitational, which will be held Sept. 24 at Piñon Hills Golf Course, to be fresh, strong and ready to go for Pebble Beach. He will depart for California the following day.

Panthers coach Tom Yost isn’t worried about Smalley burning out beforehand.

“If this was the spring, I’d be worried. But I’m not worried,” Yost said. “He’s going to have the whole offseason to recover.”

Yost said he was immediately struck by how the Diehl brothers’ resolve has improved since they played at Pebble Beach, and now he expects the same thing from Smalley.

“It’s going to be really good for him,” Yost said. “He’s hitting it really solid right now. He’s hitting it where he wants to. He’s hitting more greens. He’s not having to rely on getting up and down chipping and pitching. Right now, (his confidence) is starting to trend up.”

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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