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Pro golfer Chris Smith’s wife was killed Sunday in a car crash in Angola. Smith learned to play golf at Elcona Country Club.|95817
Local Sports: Golf — George Thomas helped Chris Smith learn the game
Posted on June 24, 2009 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on June 24, 2009 at 4:30 a.m.

ELKHART -- Indiana's renowned golfing Smith family still touches George Thomas deeply.

"That was horrible. The Smith family is such a great family," Thomas said Tuesday after learning that Beth Smith, the wife of PGA and Nationwide Tour golfer Chris Smith, was killed Sunday in a car accident near Angola.

Back in "the early 1970s," Thomas, the longtime former golf pro at Elcona Country Club, taught golf to Chris Smith, and his brother Todd.

He's followed the Smith family ever since.

"It's an extraordinary family ... very successful," said Thomas, who helped run golf at Elcona from 1965-1997.

Thomas later coached and helped nurture the golf program at the University of Notre Dame and, as a qualifier for two U.S. Opens and a PGA national championship, is still regarded as one of Indiana's most decorated players.

He dearly loves to spin a story, too.

"Chris and Todd's dad would bring them up to me from Rochester every Tuesday and Thursday," Thomas said. "They were non-resident members. A very good deal. I'd give them all lessons. They were probably nine or 10 years old then. They were very talented golfers."

The Smith family developed and built Rock Hollow Golf Club in Peru, one of the state's top layouts. Todd Smith is the course pro.

"That's a spectacular course," Thomas said.

Chris Smith, 40, has eight PGA starts in 2009 and has made the cut four times. On the Nationwide Tour, he has three starts. The Ohio State University graduate turned pro in 1991.

"I was really excited to teach them," Thomas said. "Actually, I always thought Todd was better than Chris. Todd was a long hitter and won everything in the state of Indiana."

Thomas, inducted into the Indiana PGA Hall of Fame in 1980, recalled seeing Chris for the first time.

"When Chris was 10, I saw him take a practice swing. He put his hands in perfect position," Thomas said. "I thought he was a baby Jack Nicklaus."