It's difficult enough for a golfer to deal with the rigors of the professional game, but for Australian Sarah Jane Smith, she also had to adjust to living and traveling in the United States.
After a highly successful amateur career in Australia - she was the top-ranked junior in 2002, top-ranked amateur in 2003 and a member of the 2004 Australian World Cup Team - Smith cut her teeth on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG) Tour and the Duramed FUTURES Tour. She won a FUTURES Tour event in 2005, but struggled with her game and the demands of being a full-time professional.
Smith's growing pains were similar to other players' experiences, and they were frustrating for the decorated amateur.
"It has definitely been a lot tougher than I thought," said Smith, whose husband, Duane, caddies for her. "I got off to a good start on the FUTURES Tour and won my second event out there, and then the next few years were a struggle. Being away from home and my coach was a huge adjustment from amateur golf, and it took me a few years to get a good team around me in the U.S."
Instead of folding under the pressure and letting her frustrations get the better of her, Smith used her first few years as a pro to learn and absorb as much about life on Tour as she could.
"The FUTURES Tour was a massive learning experience for me," she said. "Obviously, there was a lot to learn on the course, but there are so many tricks to traveling that took a few years to learn. My husband and I had a great time traveling the country, but we have stayed in some pretty nasty hotels and driven some serious miles. But it was definitely all worth it."
Smith notched her first career LPGA top-10 in 2008 - a tie for sixth at the Navistar LPGA Classic Presented by MaxxForce - struggled more in 2009 and then put together a solid season in 2010. That year, she made 10 of 13 cuts and earned more than $100,000 for the first time in her career.
As with many players, swing changes and additions to her inner circle were part of the mix for Smith. She hired coach Sean Foley, who implemented some swing changes, and life coach Peter Crone in 2009 and has reaped rewards from both moves.
"I have some amazing people I'm very fortunate to work with," Smith said. "I was always very skeptical about any type of 'sports psychologist,' but I've gotten more than I could have ever imagined out of working with Peter. He has helped me put all of Sean's hard work into play."
Smith's second top-10 came last year, but she made just eight of 15 cuts. She knows what it will take for her to achieve good results on a consistent basis.
"My short game has to improve in 2012 if I want to have more consistent results," Smith said. "I have been working really hard on it with my coach over the offseason and have already seen some huge improvement. In previous years, my good weeks have come from weeks of great ball striking, and the weeks I didn't hit it so great, I had no chance."
Smith is excited about the prospect of beginning her 2012 season on her home soil, Feb. 9-12, at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open.
"I love starting the season at home in Australia," Smith said. With the Australian Open being an LPGA event, that is going to be amazing. I've never played Royal Melbourne, and we always get great crowds in Melbourne, so the atmosphere will be fantastic."
Smith is becoming more accustomed to playing in big-time events. She qualified for and played in all four LPGA majors last season for the first time in her career, an achievement she did not take for granted.
"The majors make all the hard work worthwhile," she said. "They are all at amazing sites, and the best players in the world are all there that week. They have an amazing feel, and it's great to play courses you know have been set up to challenge you in every possible way."
Going forward, Smith has specific goals for this season and beyond.
"In 2012, my major goal is to get in the top 40 to be able to play all the limited-field events," Smith said. "Past that, I would love to play in the 2016 Olympics, so I need to get to the top two players in Australia."