After three years of being unable to return home to Australia, great friends Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman can’t wait to get to Melbourne. Interviewed by Evin Priest
[Getty images: Chris Trotman/LIV Golf, Andy Lyons]
To say it’s been a big year for Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman would be an understatement. Smith won the Tournament of Champions and the Players Championship on the PGA Tour before claiming his first Major at the 150th Open at St Andrews in July. A little more than a month later, the world No.3 left the PGA Tour, where Smith had six career victories, to join LIV Golf. Smith’s great mate, Marc Leishman, also joined LIV and the pair were on an all-Australian team called Punch GC with Matt Jones and Wade Ormsby. While the move was mostly positive, there was some criticism from American fans and even former Major champions like Gary Player and Fred Couples, who criticised LIV’s format of 54-hole events with no 36-hole cut. But Smith answered them emphatically with a victory in Chicago in just his second start on the LIV circuit. Smith and Leishman’s team also rallied to finish second at the $US50 million LIV Team Championship in Miami in October.
After a truly whirlwind year, Smith and Leishman are champing at the bit to return to Australia. Neither has been home since before COVID-19, while this will be the first Australian Open held since 2019 due to the pandemic. The pair are eager to be reunited with their loved ones, their mates and two of Australia’s best courses – Victoria and Kingston Heath – for a truly groundbreaking edition of our national championship.
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Australian Golf Digest: It’s been a whirlwind year – three victories on the PGA Tour before coming across to LIV Golf. Can you sum up 2022?
Smith: “Unreal. It’s been a year that I’ll definitely never forget. It’s definitely something I didn’t really expect. But it goes to show what a bit of hard work and a bit of digging deep can do, which is exciting for the future.”
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When Adam Scott won the 2013 Masters, he had a bit of a green jacket parade. Have you got any plans for the claret jug?
Smith: “Not specifically at the moment. I know it will be coming back down to Australia. I think it’d be remiss of me not to bring it out to a couple of the tournaments.”
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Jumping across to LIV, how has your life changed if at all?
Smith: “Well, at the moment, it hasn’t really changed a lot but… other than the fact I’ll get a longer break or off-season. I’ll be able to spend more time at home and basically be at home until February, which is something that I’ve never really been able to do. To bring an event there [about April] and showing Aussie golf fans some more world-class golf will be really good.”
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Was it easier making the switch to LIV with Marc Leishman, one of your best mates, coming along for the ride?
Smith: “Yeah, absolutely. It definitely made the decision a little bit easier. Playing on the same team is really exciting. Sharing a little bit more time together and getting to know each other more is pretty cool. Leish is one of the best blokes you’ll ever meet in your life. He’s really easy to hang around and have a beer with.”
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What’s his best trait as a human?
Smith: “He’s like a big, cuddly bear, ol’ Leish. He just listens. In the near future, I think he’ll be really important on our team. He’s kind of like a big brother for everyone. He’s been through a lot of stuff himself in professional golf and he’s just a good person.”
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What about you, Marc? Has it been nice to make the switch to LIV Golf with Cam?
Leishman: It’s been unreal. To do something different but be able to share it with one of your best mates is pretty cool. It’s been a lot of fun so far. It has a very different feel to what we have been doing. I loved everything about the PGA Tour, but the change has been pretty nice.
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What are Cam’s best traits as a golfer and a mate?
Leishman: “As a golfer he’s very well rounded. But as a person, he’s so humble. I feel like we’ve got very similar backgrounds; both come from working-class families. I think we relate to each other a lot, which is great for our friendship. We enjoy a lot of the same things and he’s just very down-to-earth.”
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Cam said what people don’t know about Marc Leishman is your dry sense of humour. Conversely, what don’t people know about Cam?
Leishman: Probably the same thing, to be honest. We laugh a lot when we’re together. He’s very witty. I think you see that in press conferences. He’s just got that quiet confidence I think you need to be extremely successful in golf. He does it in the right way. He doesn’t come across as arrogant at all. He’s got that mix pretty down pat. He’s also very generous. He likes helping people and you see that with the junior golfers [from Golf Queensland] he brings over from Australia each year.
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Cam, there’s plenty excitement around the Australian Open with two great Sandbelt courses hosting. What are your thoughts on the format for this unique first national open to be played with men and women competing on the same courses at the same time?
Smith: “I think it’ll be a great turnout. It will be exciting for everyone there. Having both genders there playing national championships is something that I guess is definitely new and hopefully it’s perceived very well in Australia and we can keep the trend going.”
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What’s special about Melbourne from going there as a golfer over the years?
Smith: “For me, it’s all about the golf in Melbourne. It’s a great city. Great coffee, great food, great culture and I can’t wait to get back down to Australia, really. Melbourne is the pinnacle of golf in Australia.”
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Are you expecting a warm welcome from the Aussie fans when you come home?
Smith: “I hope so. I definitely haven’t been back home yet to see it myself. I hope everyone just embraces what we’re trying to do with golf and trying to make it a better sport.”
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Do you have any concrete plans for your time off in Australia?
Smith: “I think a lot of it will just be hanging out with family and friends and catching up a little bit over Christmas when everyone’s off work, and then maybe a little bit of travel, which I haven’t really done before. It seems like my time in Australia has always just been about hanging out with family and friends, but I think when they go back to work in the New Year, I might have a little bit of time to travel around Australia.”
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Marc, you haven’t been home in three years. What are you looking forward to most about going back to Australia?
Leishman: “Everything, really. Family, friends and just everything about it. The sounds, the smells. The golf tournaments and playing golf in Australia again in front of home crowds will also be incredible. There’s not much I’m not looking forward to, to be honest!”
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How has life been different since you went to LIV?
Leishman: “I think I’m more relaxed. We are all laughing a lot more. On the course it’s great. Off the course it’s been unbelievable; having dinners with the boys every night. You meet for breakfast and you’re spending a lot more time with people. You’re wanting other people to play well and that brings the camaraderie and happiness.”
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When you get back to Australia, what kind of reaction from the fans are you expecting?
Leishman: “Mostly positive. I think all the negative stuff is on social media – I don’t think that’s a true indication of life. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but we’re looking forward to coming back and playing an Aussie summer of golf in front of great fans.”
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What are you looking forward to most about Victoria and Kingston Heath?
Leishman: “The creativity. Hopefully they will both be firm and fast. I love it when they tuck pins there and you have to use slopes to get the ball close to the hole. Also, just being in Melbourne and seeing people I haven’t seen for three years will be great.”
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Are you excited for the Australian Open being on two different courses?
Leishman: “I hope it goes really well. I hope the weather co-operates, because that can be a challenge. If there is a wind direction that is really difficult – like a north wind that comes in for one day and one course plays really tough and the other doesn’t – that’s something you don’t want. You want a fair Australian Open and hopefully it’s fantastic.”
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Any favourite spots to hang out in Melbourne?
For this question, Leishman’s caddie, Matt Kelly, jumps in.
Kelly: “Temperance Society in Hughesdale. That’s my favourite spot for a good Aussie breakfast.”
Leishman: “I love the Southbank area. You walk around and go to some pubs along the Yarra and it’s a great time.”