Ed Valentino won the men’s division of the London Country Club’s recent Handicap Club Championship. While it was the fourth time he has taken top honors in the event, the avid golfer was more than happy to turn the spotlight on his fellow champion, Rheba Smith, who won the women’s division for the ninth time. She will compete in the club’s scratch tournament at the end of this month, vying for her 44th title in the event since 1952.
“She’s 5-2 and 98 pounds soaking wet, and she can hit the ball a good 250 yards down the fairway. A lot of people are amazed that someone so small can hit the ball that far,” Valentino said.
Smith has had plenty of practice, a great deal of which has taken place on the London Country Club course. She started playing when she was 9.
“I followed my parents on the course with a set of old clubs my father cut down to fit,” said Smith, a resident of London.
Smith’s father, John Miller, started as a caddy at the country club and later spent 38 years as a greens superintendent. Her brother, Jack, was the club pro and the greens superintendent for 21 years. Her nephew held the greens superintendent job for over six years. Her mother, Margaret, mowed the London course for eight years, and her older brother, Bob, is a golfer, too. The family moved to a house on the course in 1945; Smith lived there until she was married in 1957.
“I know every grass blade out here,” Smith said.
Her favorite holes on the London course are No. 6 and No. 15 because she has tallied more eagles on them than any other. In her career, she has hit four hole-in-one shots.
Smith has built her skills over time, getting into the tournament scene early. At age 13, she was one of only two girls who competed in the National Caddie Tournament in Columbus at The Ohio State University. Eighty-two boys competed.
At London High School, Smith was the only female on the otherwise all-boys squad. In 1954, the Ohio High School Athletic Association barred girls from playing in boys’ interscholastic sports. Smith received special permission to play, and it was her score that decided London’s title as Mid Six League champion.
As an adult, Smith has won many women’s invitationals around Ohio, has been club champion in Urbana twice, and has set course records at Marysville, Double D, Delaware and Stoney Creek Country Club.
She won London Country Club’s scratch club championship from 1952-1957, 1962 to 1968, and 1976 to 2006.
Smith plays golf three to four times a week, primarily at the London Country Club. She also hits the greens at the Heritage golf course in Hilliard, where her brother, Jack, works. Her lifetime best score for 18 holes is 70. Her lifetime best for nine holes is 34.
“I like competitive golf. It’s relaxation for me,” Smith said of her lifelong passion for the sport.