GARRISON -- R.J. Smiley has been playing competitive golf for five decades and if he lives as long as his octogenarian mother he'll be playing for many more.
Smiley who plays on the MGA senior tour has not only played golf for 41 years but has made a habit of winning. The next time Smiley wins a golf tournament he will have won in five decades.
Growing up in Hays, Kan., Smiley won the Kansas State High School Golf Championship. As a member of the Fort Hays State University golf team he won the individual conference championship and was an All-American, finishing fourth in the national tournament. He has also won the Minnesota State Senior Amateur in 1998.
"When I was young, when I was in college and just after, I was really a fierce competitor," Smiley said. "When I showed up to a tournament everyone was trying to figure out how they were going to beat me.
"I can't create that level of intensity in myself anymore and I don't practice as hard as I used to but I've been competitive since I was 16.
"I'm really looking forward to winning something one of these days so I can say I've won something in five decades."
The 57-year-old started playing golf at the age of 13 on the sand green courses of Kansas but his family vacationed at Cross Point Resort in Pelican Rapids. From there Smiley would take a short trip to the Detroit Lakes Country Club and he fell in love with Minnesota golf.
"I was a sophomore in high school and I went over to watch the Pine-to-Palm Golf Tournament at Detroit Lakes," said Smiley. "It was the year Dayton Olson beat Jake Rule.
"It was a really big deal because Rule was the two-time defending Big Ten champion and had won the Pine to Palm two years in a row.
"Dayton Olson was a kind of a scrappy little street hustler but they had this huge gallery following and Olson beat him."
Smiley went back to play the Pine-to-Palm Tournament and has put it on his list of tournaments won.
A change in address to Mille Lacs resulted in his purchase of the Mille Lacs Golf Resort in 1988.
"I saw this golf course and it reminded me so much of the Detroit Lakes Country Club that I always kind of wanted to own it," Smiley said who also develops golf courses. "The course went broke back in 1988 so a small group of investors and I bought it and have been struggling with it ever since."
Smiley loves being in the golf industry but his true passion for golf comes in the heat of competition.
"I play golf to compete," said Smiley who was knocked out of the MGA's Senior match-play tournament this month. "I'm not out there to enjoy the nice weather. I like to compete and Minnesota has the finest competitive golf state wide, of any place I've ever been."
Smiley is enjoying the MGA senior tour more than any tour he's been associated with because of the level of competition and the numbers in the field. He says he'll compete at the game that has become his life until he dies. If that's the case and if he lives as old as his mother, Marinna, who at 88 still hands out golf cart keys to resort customers, Smiley will have played for eight decades.
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