By Evin Priest
Cameron Smith isn’t afraid of a bad round. Eight unforgettable words of wisdom from his father Des once removed that fear.
“Some days are diamonds, some days are duck s#!t.”
Whether Des channelled Plato or Paul Hogan – possibly both – for that memorable line, his son doesn’t care.
“You can rock up one day feeling on top of the world, shot 8-under par and literally the next day you don’t have a clue what you’re doing,” Smith tells Australian Golf Digest. As far as the 21-year-old is concerned, the advice has enabled him to remain calm before the most important moments of his golf career – his debut on the US PGA Tour and in the Major championships, particularly.
For the extreme humidity of Malaysia provokes enough sweat without the anxiety of teeing it up in your first US PGA Tour event, in Kuala Lumpur. Knowing he was more likely to put diamonds on the scorecard than wipe duck manure off it, Smith calmly finished in a share of fifth place and pocketed $US266,000.
It’s fitting that Smith lives his life by Des’ credo, given the scratch-marker introduced him to golf at Wantima Country Club in Brisbane.
“When I was little, I’d follow dad around,” recalls Smith. “He bolted a 90mm plumbing pipe to the side of his buggie and put my little clubs in it. I just fell in love with the game and all I wanted was to play golf professionally.”
So when it came time for Smith to begin his career in the Majors at the US Open in June, he thought of Dad’s advice.
“Going into the US Open was like a normal week; I wanted to prepare well and do my best and I think it was pretty close,” says Smith.
Except it was anything but normal. Hitting a 3-wood 260 metres off the deck to a foot from the flag on the 72nd hole of a Major tournament is not normal. Finishing fourth in your Major debut is not normal. Being the only player in the field at Chambers Bay to card four rounds at par or better is about as normal as John Daly’s taste in trousers.
“It (finishing fourth) was pretty awesome. The US Open definitely tops my greatest moments on the golf course; nothing could really beat it. Especially that last shot and the atmosphere of the week.”
That atmosphere was dominated by the world’s best golfers bemoaning Robert Trent Jones Jr’s coastal Washington project. But there were no complaints from Smith. “I liked Chambers Bay; I got there and thought it suited me. I knew it was going to be windy and require low shots, unlike the typical US Open courses,” says Smith.
The bellyaching also saturated the TV broadcast, which failed to show the young Queenslander two shots adrift and chasing down champion Jordan Spieth on Sunday.
But Smith humbly acknowledges his profile doesn’t yet warrant prime time coverage. Though his results certainly do.
“I’m still a rookie,” he says. “And it’s good to fly under the radar – there’s not as much pressure, or hassle before and after the round. I think it played into my hands a little bit.”
And now that his profile is at least on the official US PGA Tour website, it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks – a photograph, biography and statistics.
“I’d like it (profile) to read top-50 player in the world, and hopefully down the track a little bit lower,” says Smith. “Maybe a couple of wins to the name. And probably a mug shot too – maybe one with a big, thick moustache,” he laughs.
With this laidback attitude, one can understand how Smith stays composed during the big moments. But what exactly does Cameron Smith do to relax between shots?
“Just talk to my caddie about rubbish, really” says Smith. “We chat about rugby league and sports in general. I have a pretty good ability to switch off between shots; that helps heaps. It’s just my personality – loving what I do but not caring too much.”
Even at his Sunshine Coast training base of Twin Waters, this interview, naturally, goes off on a non-golf tangent…
“Yeah I’m a massive (Brisbane) Broncos fan. They’re playing so good that unless I win (a US PGA Tour event) and get into the FedEx Cup playoff (in September) I might even fly down to Sydney and watch the NRL grand final if the Broncos get in.” Smith’s long-time coach, Grant Field, says his star pupil’s strength is also the ability to switch off between tournaments.
“Cam can forget a bad round and accept it; he sees no past and no future. Once we’re done, we’re done,” says Field.
Field believes this, combined with raw talent, an incredible work ethic and a simple, repeatable swing will elevate Smith to golf’s greatest heights.
“He’s definitely capable of being a top-10 player in the world. To be the best player in the world takes an enormous amount of work and it’s just a matter of whether he wants to commit to that level.
“His game sets up for the Majors because he’s so consistent. His action is pretty simple, so there’s not a lot of things that can go wrong … and he doesn’t have any weaknesses – he’s a great driver of the ball, a really good iron player and he’s world class from 100m and in.”
But for now, Smith’s focus is on utilising the Special Temporary Membership the US PGA Tour has given him for the remainder of the 2014/15 season, which will allow him to lock up a full 2016 playing schedule.
Then, of course, another crack at one of golf’s four biggest trophies. “Winning a Major championship has been a goal of mine since I was a little kid. To win one would be awesome, but it takes a lot of hard work,” says Smith.
And when he’s once again high on the leaderboard of a Major, you can be sure Smith will be relaxed and thinking of father Des’ golf philosophy.
“Golf is just one of those funny games I guess; you put the great rounds in the memory bank and the rest you take on the chin and move forward.”