Riley Smyth underwent surgery on her right hip as a junior in high school. Then — before the busiest stretch of her final season on the junior golf circuit, and not long after she had fully recovered — she felt the same twinge in her left side.

By that time, Smyth already had committed to play at Virginia, but those aspirations were in serious jeopardy for the immediate future. She faced a second arduous rehabilitation and wouldn’t be able to swing a golf club, other than a putter, for months.

“I knew right away what it was, and I knew I was going to have surgery again,” Smyth said. “So it was difficult to wrap my mind around because I knew that I was losing my last summer of junior golf and starting college was going to look a little different.

“But I just knew what was on the other side, and that was almost good enough to keep my hopes high.”

Heading into her junior season, Smyth has emerged as a centerpiece in the Cavaliers’ pursuit of a national championship behind performances such as her first round in this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club, where she shot 4-under 68 on Monday morning for a share of the lead.

The second and final round of stroke play begins Wednesday morning in Rockville. U.S. Golf Association officials postponed play in its entirety Tuesday because of the heavy rain in the forecast from Tropical Storm Isaias, which made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane Monday night.

Smyth carded five birdies in her first appearance at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and her first USGA event overall. The only blemish on her round came at the par-3 13th, where she made bogey during her first competitive round at Woodmont with her father, Kenny, serving as her caddie.

“Riley is just such an athletic beast in everything she does,” Cavaliers women’s golf coach Ria Scott said. “She sets the example in the weight room. She’s the first one to get to practice every day, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing some good golf from Riley.”

That dedication helped Smyth, 20, reclaim her swing to such a degree that she was shooting lower scores than her all-ACC teammates during NCAA championship qualifying in the spring of her freshman year. The previous fall, she was riding a golf cart just to get around the course.

Last year, Smyth finished second on the Cavaliers in scoring average (73.5) and posted the best result of her college career by placing third at the Windy City Collegiate, carding a team-best 6-under 210 in soggy conditions at Glen View Club outside Chicago.

That experience, Scott said, helped prepare Smyth for a similar layout at Woodmont.

“She’s statistically, gosh, just a really great ball-striker, really long and dynamic,” Scott said. “I think that’s why these conditions were really good for her because it was playing long and soft. The classic look of it she loved, and she finished really well in Chicago, so we knew she had good vibes going into the week.”

Still, Smyth admitted to having some jitters during the first few holes Monday, even with no spectators permitted, before a birdie at the 337-yard par-4 fourth ignited her round and put her in position to qualify for the match play portion of the tournament.

The top 64 players advance to match play, which culminates in Sunday’s championship.

Much like her fellow competitors this week, Smyth has become creative in keeping her game in peak form since the novel coronavirus pandemic put sports on hold, even hitting golf balls off a picnic table on the backyard deck of her family’s home in North Carolina.

It hasn’t been all golf, though, for Smyth. She has become quite the jigsaw puzzle prodigy and has mastered her recipe for spaghetti squash Bolognese, a family favorite.

But she also has been able to practice at the course on which her family lives since it remained open during the outbreak that has led the USGA to take strict safety precautions this week, including mandatory temperature checks and face coverings.

Players and caddies also had to test negative for the coronavirus upon arrival to be allowed to compete.

“I think they really did an unbelievable job with it, where I feel as safe as I would have felt during a normal year,” Smyth said. “Just with having masks required everywhere and just really limiting the number of people that are wandering around the course and the clubhouse, I think they did a wonderful job.”

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