Patrick Smith was nearly 25 years younger than PRCA Hall of Famer Tee Woolman when they first roped together. The team was a mix of youthful zeal and experience - Smith was new to the sport, and Woolman was a seasoned veteran with four NFR aggregate titles, an NFSR aggregate crown and more than $2 million in winnings.
Now nearly 25 years later, Smith is the seasoned vet, and 22-year-old Tanner Tomlinson, the young gun. The mix of youth and experience is a good combination for Smith.
“Experience matters a lot,” Smith says. “Just having someone who’s been there is important. But it’s also important to rope with someone whose experience is new and exciting. It helps me remember the fire inside of me.”
Tomlinson was 2 when Smith was named the 2003 PRCA Rookie of the Year. He grew up watching Smith and Trevor Brazile rope. Competing together night in and night out with one of his childhood idols is a dream come true.
“It’s an honor,” says Tomlinson, who was named the 2020 Rookie of the Year. “I’ve looked up to Patrick my whole life. It feels like yesterday I was watching him and Trevor on television.”
Smith said he enjoys being a mentor of sorts to Tomlinson. He said in his early days, when he didn’t know “anything … how to prepare, how to enter,” the older cowboys looked after him. Now, he’s doing that for his partner. Of course, there is some ribbing from Tomlinson and others about being the “old man.”
“We have fun with it,” he says. “But really, I’m grateful to have the experience.”
The “experience” so far has been a successful one. This summer, the pair won the Mandan Rodeo Days, Magic Valley Stampede, Walla Walla Frontier Days, Cattlemen’s Days, Cassia County Fair and Rodeo, and were co-champions at the Missoula Stampede.
“Last year when Tanner and I started roping, I knew it was an investment,” Smith says. “I also knew his talent is off the charts, but talent only takes you so far. We were decent toward the end of last year, and then we turned some things around and started winning.”
The 2022 season was rough at first, with Smith assessing it as “not a great winter.” But then they started “putting it all together.” A 12-time qualifier for the NFR, Smith’s last trip to the finals was in 2015. As the qualifying deadline draws near, it appears he’ll be returning for a 13th.
“This year I feel a freshness to it,” he says. “It's nice seeing hard work pay off.”