Cameron Smith doesn’t get overawed by the Masters. Well, not anymore. Not since he learned the key to success at Augusta National is preparing for the tournament like it’s a tradition just like any other.
In fact, the Queenslander gets more excited for the four-hour drive from his adopted home of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, to Augusta, Georgia, than he does for the famous drive up Magnolia Lane. You see, when the Brisbane native isn’t on the road playing US PGA Tour events, everything is within proximity of his Ponte Vedra home – where he practises at TPC Sawgrass, where he works out and where he hangs out.
Naturally, when he gets some space on an interstate freeway, the automotive enthusiast likes to see what his cars can really do. Even if that means just cruising. Last year, Smith chose to take the Range Rover and loaded it with everything he’d need for the first Major of 2018. Along with girlfriend, Jordan, and their mini dachshund, Walter, they hit the open road on Florida’s I-95 freeway and headed north for 442 kilometres.
My First Masters
Smith was a skinny 22-year-old when he first showed up at Augusta National ahead of his debut at the 2016 Masters. On the outside, he looked no different to the Cameron Smith who had smoked a 265-metre 3-wood into the 72nd hole at the 2015 US Open. That tap-in eagle at the par-5 18th at Chambers Bay, and the subsequent tie for fourth place in his Major championship debut, was what earned him an invitation to the next year’s Masters. But inside?
“I was basically sh—–g myself on every single shot at Augusta in 2016,” Smith laughs. “I was shaking from the nerves. But now, when I go to the Masters I look forward to a really good week. I feel comfortable there now.”
“I was shaking from the nerves. But now, when I go to the Masters I look forward to a really good week. I feel comfortable there now.” – Cameron Smith
Smith gave himself a pass mark for handling the nerves and making the cut en route to finishing tied for 55th. But he knew that was unlike his usually composed self. And he knew for his next trip to Augusta, he would have to focus less on the occasion and more on treating the Masters just like every other week.
That return trip didn’t come for another two years, when Smith took the best part of four months – from winning the Australian PGA Championship in December 2017 until the WGC–Match Play in Texas in March 2018 – to sneak inside the world’s top 50.
This time, Smith brought along family, friends, his girlfriend and his dog. He created a relaxed atmosphere. He didn’t drive up to Augusta until the Sunday before the tournament. You can peak too early in Masters week.
The tweaks certainly paid off. Cameron Smith wasn’t in the mix for the first three rounds of the 2018 Masters before a Sunday back nine for the ages catapulted him up the leaderboard and into a share of fifth.
Smith birdied the 10th hole, the iconic 12th and 13th at Amen Corner, before adding two more at the 15th and 17th. He missed an eight-foot birdie putt at 18 that would have tied the back-nine scoring record of 29.
“Yeah, that was pretty exciting,” Smith recalls. “I actually hit three really good shots into the last three holes but to only get one birdie out of it, at 17, was disappointing. But I stuck to my guns, stayed aggressive, and pulled it off. To do that late on Sunday was a special feeling.”
Grant Field, Smith’s coach since he was an early teenager, was satisfied their team’s measured approach to the week allowed his pupil’s game to shine at a course he knows Smith can perform well at.
“Cam has that personality that lends itself towards playing well at the Masters,” Field tells Australian Golf Digest. “He really doesn’t get wrapped up in the Masters hype, or what goes on around it. He is really good at going in and doing his business and trying his best to treat it like any other golf tournament.”
Physically, Field believes Smith has the game to contend regularly around the hallowed turf of Augusta. “There are no real weaknesses in Cam’s game,” Field says. “His long game and his iron play are world-class… but his freakish touch and short game goes well around Augusta because you need to be very comfortable hitting the shots from 100 yards and in. It helps that he has a wide variety of shots because there are so many ways to approach Augusta.”
Naturally, team Smith doesn’t intend changing much for this year’s Masters, although Field admits preparation will be significantly easier this year. Smith wasn’t a lock to play in last year’s Masters until he defeated Englishman Tyrrell Hatton in the round of 16 at the WGC–Dell Match Play. That was only eight days before Masters week was due to kick off.
But his eventual tie for fifth at Augusta ensured Smith had already punched his ticket to the 2019 Masters before he left the course on Sunday, as the top 12 finishers at the Masters are invited to the next year’s edition. Smith’s countryman Marc Leishman also secured a return though that category.
“We will be better organised, that’s for sure,” Field laughs. “But I don’t think anything will change in his preparation for the week. It will be the same sort of stuff; we will look at what things he did well last year and what could improve. It may end up being just strategy that we tweak.”
Like last year, Smith won’t drive up to Augusta from Ponte Vedra until the Sunday before the Masters. He will play nine-hole practice rounds daily while working with Field to put the final touches on his preparation.
“It’s important Cam works into it as the week progresses… I don’t think it’s a tournament where you can afford to be ‘on’ from Monday,” Field says. “You need to be testing things out early in the week. But definitely the closer it gets to game time, there is a slight change in his intensity.”
Then And Now
Cameron Smith has come a long way during the past 12 months. He entered 2018 Masters week 45th in the world but has since improved his ranking to No.24 on the back of a consistent year.
He bagged consecutive third-place finishes at the opening two events of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup series, and another top-10 during the PGA Tour’s Asia swing, before a whirlwind Australian summer of golf. He tied for 10th at the Australian Open and recorded a runner-up with teammate Leishman at the World Cup of Golf, before securing his second straight Australian PGA Championship victory on the Gold Coast. In 2019, he has already posted two top-10 results on the PGA Tour, including the WGC–Mexico Championship.
“I think every aspect of Cam’s game just keeps getting that little bit better,” Field says. “I don’t think we’ve changed what we do at all, but he continues to improve at what he does well. What I will say is there is an added level of belief that goes with that.”
“I don’t think we’ve changed what we do at all, but he continues to improve at what he does well. What I will say is there is an added level of belief that goes with that.” – Grant Field
Smith’s countryman Jason Day agrees and has tipped his fellow Queenslander to star, not only at the Masters but all four Majors this year.
“Cam is sneaky good; he will pop his head up in big-time events this year and that is a good thing,” Day tells Australian Golf Digest.
Adds Field: “Cam continually proves that the bigger the stage, the better he performs. I see no reason why he can’t play well at Augusta this year. The goal is always to win there, but he just has to put himself in position come Sunday. And then, you never know.”