In 2017, Brisbane’s Cameron Smith captured his first US PGA Tour victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where he and Swedish teammate Jonas Blixt outlasted Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a four-hole playoff. The 24-year-old, who already has five top-10 finishes this season, is back in New Orleans this week with Blixt to defend his title. But before he takes on the TPC Louisiana course, Smith sat down to discuss team golf, his relationship with Blixt, and how life has changed since his breakthrough win.
How are things different for you now, one year after your first US PGA Tour win at the Zurich Classic with Jonas?
Cameron Smith: The things that have changed have probably just been the security in my job and the freedom to be out there on the course. (It lets me) play a little bit more aggressively when I need to and try to win some golf tournaments, rather than be out there just trying to earn some points and keep going to the next week. Definitely a lot better strategy, but also a lot different.
An Australian and a Swede got together to win the first PGA Tour team event in 30-plus years. How did your pairing come about in 2017?
CS: When I first moved over here, I basically knew no one other than my caddie, Sam (Pinfold). Sam had a room at Jonas’ place in Jacksonville (Florida). I stayed there a few weeks and got to know Jonas really well. He took me under his arm a little bit out there in Jacksonville and took me out to practise and play at TPC (Sawgrass). I ended up moving there, not because of Jonas, but all the people I knew there in Jacksonville, all nice people.
How does your strategy change playing a team event versus playing an individual event?
CS: Not too much changed. We tried to stay out of our hair as much as we could last year. In fact, if Jonas felt comfortable with a putt or if he wanted me in there, we just tried to stay out of each other’s way. That works out. I don’t think too much is different. Obviously, the rhythm is different with foursomes and with four-ball. Four-ball tends to take forever and foursomes is hitting every second shot. So, very different.
Is there one memory from last year’s win that is significant to you, one that has stayed with you longer than any of the others?
CS: That story about Jonas saying he wanted me to tap in for my first victory on the PGA Tour when Kisner still had a chip to half with them, and then ended up holing it. Now it’s funny, but at the time it wasn’t.
In individual golf, the only person you may be letting down is yourself if you’re not playing well. What does it feel like playing with a partner, and is the pressure different knowing a teammate is relying on you?
CS: I don’t think so. Jonas and I have a really good relationship, and we know we’re humans and we make errors and mistakes. We don’t expect it, but we’re out there and we can only do what we can do. I think we both strive under pressure. We both play really well under pressure. Having that teammate there, like you’re saying, and not trying to let down another guy is different.
New Orleans is one of America’s great cities. Will you and Jonas do things this week away from the golf course such as eating out together, or is it all golf?
CS: It was Jonas’ birthday last night so we went out, had a nice dinner and a glass of wine or two. Other than that, we will probably hang out a little bit more this week just because we are partners, but everything will remain pretty much the same.
In less than 30 words, how would you sum up Jonas’ golf game?
CS: He just works his (butt) off, whether it be on the golf course or on the range when he’s practising. Just a grinder.
You and Jonas both played in the RBC Heritage recently. But before that, you hadn’t played in the same tournament since the Genesis Open. Did you play a practice round together at Hilton Head or in any of the weeks leading up to this week, and how often have you hung out or spoken with each other?
CS: We did play a practice round together at Hilton Head. I didn’t realise that we hadn’t played in the same tournament. That’s weird. We try and get our one or two practice rounds in every week and then probably one or two dinners, but we communicate pretty often, whether it be a text after a round or a call after a round.
US PGA Tour team tournament notes
- The 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans was first official US PGA Tour team event in 36 years. The 2018 tournament is the second edition of the event played using a team format. Prior to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans moving to the team concept, the last official PGA Tour team event was the 1981 Walt Disney World National Team Championship held at the Magnolia, Palm and Lake Buena Vista courses at Disney. Vance Heafner and Mike Holland won that title. The tournament became an individual strokeplay event in 1982.
- The PGA Tour has held 62 previous official team events, with two pros paired together, using various formats.
- The PGA Tour has contested 14 official team tournaments, where a pro was paired with an amateur in official events, with the pro always earning official-win designation. Because of the vagaries and inconsistencies of tour record-keeping, occasionally the amateur earned official-win designation, as well, but not always.
- The Zurich Classic of New Orleans is using a four-ball and foursomes format. The closest the PGA Tour had previously come to using a foursomes format in an official event was at the 1934 Pinehurst Pro-Pro held at Pinehurst’s No.2 course and won by Tommy Armour and Bobby Cruickshank. That tournament played under Scotch Foursomes rules, a setup that allows each player to hit a drive on each hole and then whichever player’s ball is in the best position, the teammate hits the next shot in alternate-shot fashion until the ball is holed.
- The other 60 team PGA Tour tournaments (with two pros) have used a four-ball format with various rules, including total strokes, matchplay brackets and round-robin matches (with teams earning or losing points depending on the outcome of the hole played).
- The first PGA Tour team event was the 1916 Rockland Country Club Four-Ball held at Rockland Country Club in Sparkhill, New York. Willie MacFarlane and Fred Pye teamed for the win.
- Two Texans, Jimmy Demaret and Ben Hogan, teamed to capture six titles – the most in tour history and one more than the five victories Henry Picard and Johnny Revolta combined to win.
- Ben Hogan won the most team titles in tour history, with eight. Hogan combined with Jimmy Demaret for six victories and also won tournaments with Vic Ghezzi and Gene Sarazen as his partners.