It’s the tournament that they never imagined contesting let alone winning but the prospect of Olympic gold is now hitting home for Australian pair Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman.
The men’s Olympic golf competition commences at Kasumigaseki Country Club 50 kilometres outside of Tokyo on Thursday morning with 12 of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Rankings taking part.
At No.28 Smith is one of those and at No.36 Leishman is not far behind, the pair’s mateship – and that of their caddies Sam Pinfold and Matt Kelly – instilling a sense of national pride that they hope will elevate them onto the podium come Sunday.
It’s a position neither ever considered during their formative years in the game but now they have tasted the Olympic spirit and donned the Australian uniform the enormity of what they could accomplish has suddenly hit home.
“The green and gold, the coat of arms on the chest just hits a little bit different,” conceded Smith, whose nationalistic passion has been carved into the side of his now infamous mullet.
“It’s always nice to play for something bigger than just yourself every week.
“Growing up you never really think that you’re going to wear the Olympic uniform with the coat of arms on it.
“It’s pretty special.”
Leishman’s Olympic memories growing up in Warrnambool in regional Victoria centred mostly around swimming, diving and the blue-ribbon 100-metre sprint.
But now that he is a bona fide Olympian Leishman has also been struck by the significance of the moment and what it represents as a measure of success for golfers in the future.
“This is a big deal. If it wasn’t equal to a major, it would be a very, very, very close second,” said Leishman, who partnered with Smith at the 2018 World Cup of Golf in Melbourne where they finished tied for second.
“As a golfer, we didn’t grow up thinking we would have a chance to win a medal so I think as time goes on, this is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
“To represent your country is a huge honour and I know we’re both very proud to be wearing this uniform.
“I’m certainly very proud to call myself an Olympian now and I know Cam is as well.
“I feel like we do represent Australia every week but this is just really, really special.”
Australia has history of success at Kasumigaseki Country Club with Paul Sheehan triumphant at the venue at the 2006 Japan Open while Tarquin McManus was runner-up to reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama at the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
Both Leishman and Smith have experience playing in Asia – Leishman a winner on the Korean Tour in 2006 – and like what they see at a layout softened by rain associated with the typhoon that brushed past Tokyo on Tuesday.
“I’ve never played a bad golf course in Japan,” said Smith, who hasn’t finished worse than seventh in three starts at the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in Korea.
“They’re always in such pristine condition. The greens out there are amazing.
“Hopefully the rain holds off and it’s able to get a little firmer and faster for us. I know we both like that. But nonetheless I’m sure it will be a great course.”
“It seems like every bunker has been put there for a reason. They’re all in play,” added Leishman, who has been paired with Matsuyama and Canada’s Corey Conners in the opening two rounds.
“If you are hitting your irons well there will be an opportunity for a lot of birdies. But on the
other hand, if you’re just a little bit off you’re going to have some really difficult putts for birdies and tough two-putts.
“I think there’s going to be a fairly big spread in scores. If you play well you can go low, if you’re not playing well it will get you. Which is good, you should be rewarded for good play and punished for bad play.
“I think it’s a great venue for the Olympic golf and it’s just a pity that we can’t have crowds here because I think it would be really special.”
[Image: International Golf Federation]