Cameron Smith had just walked off the 18th green at St Andrews, holding the Open Championship’s claret jug, when his agent, Bud Martin, handed him a phone.
Smith’s father, Des, was on the other end and was an emotional wreck. His 28-year-old son had just shot 64 to finish 20-under-par – a St Andrews record – to win the Open at the Home of Golf.
“I was bawling my eyes out speaking to him,” Smith Sr told Australian Golf Digest from Brisbane. “I’m so proud of him. All the hard work he’s done has paid off.”
Smith took up golf as a toddler at when his father cut down a set of clubs and bolted some PVC pipe to the side of his pull cart so that Smith could put his junior clubs in it and walk around. By age 12, Smith was breaking par at Brisbane’s Wantima GC and beating his old man.
“Nothing surprises me anymore; he is so talented and has put so much hard work in,” Smith Sr said.
Given it was only 5am in Brisbane when Des politely fielded this phone call from your correspondent in St Andrews, he had not yet had a beer. “She’s early at the moment, but I might have a few XXXX Golds later today,” he said.
Smith’s childhood best mate, Jack Wilkosz, who moved to the US to support Smith and work for him on the PGA Tour, did not travel to Scotland as he was heading back to Australia for a holiday. He was watching from his adopted home of Ponte Vedra, Florida and said he stood in front of the TV the entire final round to watch his mate win the Open.
“I was a nervous wreck and couldn’t sit,” Wilkosz said. “I’m just so proud of him.”
Back at the Old Course, Smith’s caddie, Sam Pinfold, was also choking back tears outside the scoring hut. Pinfold said Smith drew from his Queensland spirit, the grit that gets the Maroons rugby league side over the line in State of Origin when the chips are down to New South Wales.
“Today showed his massive belief and his confidence. I’m just so proud of him,” Pinfold, a proud New Zealander, said with a lump in his throat. “It’s not cocky, it’s not arrogance, it’s just a belief in his game.”
Smith was the 36-hole leader by two but shot 73 on day three to fall to four shots back of Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland for the final round. But Smith rattled off eight birdies and no bogeys for a 64, joining Greg Norman (64, 1993) for the equal-lowest final round by an Open champion.
“That’s the Queenslander in him; I think he drew a lot from that,” Pinfold said. “He’s never really (labelled) as a favourite or as one of the big dogs. But he loves a fight. Put him three or four shots back, and he’s going to step up his game and go for it.”
Cameron Young (65, 19 under) was second and McIlroy (70, 18 under) was third.
Smith’s long-time coach, Grant Field, was over from Australia and was watching from the packed galleries with two-time Moto GP world champion, Australia’s Casey Stoner, for 10 holes. But the pair couldn’t see Smith and retreated to the player lounge.
Field had not coached Smith in person for more than two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic until last week’s Scottish Open. Field sprinkled his magic dust in practice sessions and helped Smith finished tied 10th at the Scottish, setting up the Open victory.
Field said Smith was always “destined” to win a Major but didn’t picture it being the Open at St Andrews.
“To go from coaching him as a kid to this is something I couldn’t ever have dreamed of,” Field told Australian Golf Digest. “The 10-year-old I started with is now the Open champion at St Andrews. I thought he was destined to win a Major but this one couldn’t be more special.
“I care for Cam a lot. I want the best for him. It’s amazing to have an 18-year relationship with a player … he’s stayed true to the people who have helped him to where he is. He knows the people behind him have got his back through thick and thin.”
Field said breaking through the Major barrier could open the floodgates for Smith.
“He’s shown he’s literally one of the best players on the planet,” Field said. “It’s up to him if he wants more Majors in his future. All he needs to do is keep up the work.”