He’s not Jason Day and he’s not Jordan Spieth and nor is he pretending to be either man, but Cameron Smith enters this week’s Emirates Australian Open as the golfer next most likely to win it.
The bookies have installed the 24-year-old as the third favourite behind the two Major champions. Smith narrowly lost the Australian Open in a playoff to Spieth 12 months ago and this year tasted success for the first time on the US PGA Tour. So it’s a more than legitimate sentiment to think the fresh-faced Queenslander can depart Sydney on Sunday night with the Stonehaven Cup as carry-on luggage.
Yet it’s a lofty position to cope with for a player who generally avoids drawing attention to himself.
“I typically don’t like the spotlight,” Smith said today at The Australian Golf Club. “I try to stay away from it as much as I can, just try to do my own thing and do what I have to do.
“I always feel like coming home I feel a bit of added pressure, I guess, to play good in front of the home crowd. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to win since I was a little guy, so a bit of added pressure this week. I’ve been working hard on my game, so hopefully I can get it through and get it done.”
Smith is the lone Australian in the field to have won on the US Tour this year after he captured the two-player Zurich Classic of New Orleans with partner Jonas Blixt, who is also in Australia competing this next fortnight. For Smith, the ball began rolling at Royal Sydney last November despite the initial disappointment.
“I had a bit of a heavy heart there last year for a few weeks after the tournament,” Smith said. “It was obviously the best opportunity I’ve had to win the tournament, so to get into the playoff and be so close … not a good feeling. But it makes me even hungrier this year to get it done.
“After my good finish here last year, that kind of boosted me on the US Tour. It was a good finish to the year there as well. I played really well throughout the whole year and got a win in there with Jonas as well, which is very handy.”
And if proof were ever required that a season is a long time in golf, Smith provided it. Despite his impressive season in America, he finished strongly only because of a “boot up the bum” from his manager Bud Martin late in proceedings. At the FedEx Cup Playoff event in Chicago, Smith heard some stern words from his American-based minder.
“I just promised myself from there on out that I’d put 100 per cent into every shot, and it’s been good so far.” — Cameron Smith
“Just a bit of a general boot up the bum,” he relayed with a laugh today. “Just a bit of a talking to, I guess. Just – geez, I don’t even know how to describe it. He just gave me a bit of a rev up and from there on out I’ve played good.
“I found it hard to agree with, but he was right. I guess it was just one of those things. I just promised myself from there on out that I’d put 100 per cent into every shot, and it’s been good so far.”
With a recalibrated frame of mind, Smith’s primary hurdle may well be his ability to cope with a more demanding arena than he faced at Royal Sydney last year. The layout at The Australian hasn’t been a favourite for Smith – not that he intends to let that become a concern.
“Typically, I haven’t really played that great around this course, but now I’m feeling a bit better about my game this year,” he says. “I’ve always loved Australian golf. [The] Australian Open has always been one I want to step up and win, so just to be here and to get myself in contention on the weekend would be awesome.”