Byron Smith has no qualms about being in contention or the pressure of tournament golf.
But the Zika virus? He wants no part of that.
Smith, the 2014 Rex Hospital Open champion, is back at TPC Wakefield Plantation hoping to win for a second time. He also has some work to do, as J.J. Spaun and Brady Schnell share a one-shot lead at 9-under 133 after two rounds of the Web.com Tour event.
Spaun, the first-round leader with a 63, had a less-than-flashy 70 Friday and Schnell a 67. Tied at 8-under 134 were Chase Marinell, Jason Millard, Chris Wilson, Dominic Bozzelli and Julian Etulain.
Smith was at 5-under 137 after a 68 that would have been better had he not double-bogeyed the eighth hole, the 17th of his round. But for someone who sat out the tour for almost two months, the Palm Springs, Calif., native had no complaints.
The Web.com Tour has an interesting schedule, one that doesn’t suit everyone. There were two tournaments in Colombia, events in Panana and Brazil, and another in Mexico before the tour returned to the U.S. There’s also a June tournament in the Dominican Republic.
Smith played in Panama, then missed the next four events by choice.
“I got spooked by the Zika virus,” Smith said. “I’ve got a 10-month-old and we’re kind of planning for a second (child) soon and I didn’t want to deal with it.
“With one event in a couple of months it’s tough to get in tournament shape. Even hitting balls and playing every day back home, this is a whole different deal.”
Smith, 35, said he read a “spooky article” about the Zika virus, adding that, “Every article I read since then, it got scarier and scarier.”
The virus, spread by infected mosquitoes, can cause headaches, joint pain and fever, and severe brain anomalies in infants born of women infected with the virus. There is no vaccine.
The Zika threat didn’t keep the Web.com Tour tournament fields from being filled. Brad Fritsch, who withdrew from the Rex on Friday because of a painful left foot, picked up his first career Web.com Tour win in Cartagena, Colombia.
Smith rejoined the tour at the El Bosque Mexico Championship last month and said there was Zika talk among the players, especially about the tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
“That’s kind of the epicenter – Sao Paulo,” Smith said. “There were a few that said they got bit and haven’t felt right since. Then there’s a few people who said they didn’t see a mosquito at all.
“It’s just a risk I wasn’t willing to take. I have a new family. A lot of guys don’t have to worry about that but if you’re thinking about building a family, it’s kind of a risky play.”
Smith has some catching up to do on tour, but won the Rex title two years ago with a 63-66 finishing kick. After the victory, he called golf an “absurd game” and hasn’t changed his mind after playing last year on the PGA Tour and missing seven cuts by a shot.
“It’s all the mental approach – it really is,” he said.
Spaun, another native Californian, maintained his focus and patience Friday when softer course conditions, a bit more wind and tougher hole locations made scoring harder. The former San Diego State golfer had three birdies and two bogeys.
“It was one of those days where I couldn’t get any momentum going,” he said.
Grayson Murray of Raleigh was among the day’s late starters. Murray, playing on a sponsor’s exemption, had a 71 and was at 5-under 137.
Charles Wang of China, who played at Northwestern, had the day’s low score with a 64. Wang, 19, was at 6-under 136.
Marinell has been fighting a virus and vomited on the course Thursday. No accidents Friday, he said, smiling.
“Feeling better and feeling good about my game,” he said.