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Five days earlier, Cameron Smith was walking the greens of St. Andrews as the British Open’s Champion Golfer of the Year.
On Friday, he motored across the coastal waters of Florida among the outdoors enthusiasts of the Sunshine State — and, very nearly, on top once more.
The combined efforts of Smith, Billy Horschel and a championship golf crew led the pack early, though not at the end, in Friday’s Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament at Jim King Park at Sisters Creek.
Instead, Joseph Shugart’s crew aboard the St. Augustine-based One Time caught a 49.77-pound winner for the day’s biggest catch, while the two-fish aggregate championship — a category that Smith and Horschel’s team led for more than an hour during the afternoon — ultimately went to Tommy Rady and the Salt Life Food Shack crew.
David Nelson (left) and Steve Strickland, crew members on Joseph Shugart’s boat One Time, react as they learn the weight of their 49.67-pound kingfish, the eventual winner, at the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament at Jim King Park at Sisters Creek on July 22, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]
Less than a week removed from his golden final-round 64 at St. Andrews, Jacksonville resident Smith was back on the First Coast, teaming with seven-time PGA Tour winner Horschel and a crew filled with aces of the golf course to earn sixth place in the aggregate competition.
Already a champion this week on the turf, Smith nearly added victory in the surf. The crew, with Brandon Arthurs registered as tournament captain, weighed in a pair of 29-pounders shortly after 3 p.m. to assume the early lead at 59.27 pounds.
The learning curve proved smooth for Horschel, who had landed a 29.82-pounder in the mid-morning.
“Cam fishes a lot more than I do, the boys fish a lot more than I do, but, yeah, this is by far my biggest kingfish because I’ve never caught one,” said Horschel, whose own week at the Old Course was none too shabby. He tied for 21st at 5 under, reeling in $120,286 in prize money.
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Horschel said that Terry Kelly — the father of Matt Kelly, caddie for PGA Tour golfer Marc Leishman of Australia — caught the Smith crew’s second kingfish at 29.45 pounds.
While Friday’s sixth-place aggregate prize of $1,500 is a far cry from the $2.5 million that Smith earned for his triumph at St. Andrews, the experience left one-of-a-kind memories for Horschel.
PGA Tour golfer Billy Horschel (left) and a second crew member react as their fish’s weight is displayed on a screen at the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament at Jim King Park at Sisters Creek on July 22, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]
“This is pretty cool,” he said. “This is something I don’t do all the time, so I think we all enjoyed ourselves.”
For a while, the golfers’ catches looked like possible championship material. The Smith crew led the aggregate standings until Lyle Rose of Hilliard, aboard Cherokee Rose, pushed ahead with a pair of fish worth a combined 65.28 pounds around 4:30 p.m. Rady and the Salt Life Food Shack crew captured the $12,000 aggregate prize with catches of 39.80 and 31.83 pounds for a formidable aggregate of 71.63 pounds.
“The bite was pretty good all day,” Rady said.
Shugart shut down suspense quickly in the big-fish championship.
Shugart’s catch, the third to weigh in, proved untouchable, a mammoth kingfish at nearly 50 pounds that held up comfortably through the entire day. No subsequent fish even topped the 40-pound mark.
The crew finally reeled in the king after a battle of some 15 to 20 minutes shortly after 10 a.m. Once they had the fish on board, they knew the big-fish honors — and the prize of a new boat as part of a package worth an estimated $160,000 — appeared within reach.
“We fish all over, travel all over, the Keys, North Carolina, Biloxi,” said David Nelson, a crew member who weighed in the catch. “We’ve caught a lot of big fish, and we knew we were right there, we were contenders.”
Closest to Shugart’s team was the day’s first fish, brought to shore by Mike Strickland’s crew just after the weigh-in tent opened at 3 p.m. That fish, carried to the scales by Andrew Runyon and Bruce Brown, took the early lead at 40.81 pounds and finished in second place under the single-day fishing format.
For a while, Runyon said, the crew had no idea of the fish’s size during a grueling 30-minute morning fight.
“We didn’t get to see him for 25 minutes, and then he came up and gave us a broadside view of him and we got to see it,” Runyon said. “So, yeah, we got real excited when we saw it.”
Jacksonville’s Kaylee Canady captured first prize in the Lady Angler division with a catch of 27.49 pounds.
This year’s general tournament was the first for nearly a decade to be conducted over a single day, a schedule revamped earlier in the year due to the global surge in gasoline prices, which now shows signs of abating.
In all, tournament officials reported 343 entries for the single-day competition.
Clayton Freeman covers high school sports and more for the Florida Times-Union. Follow him on Twitter at @CFreemanJAX.