He shouldered the hopes of all Australians over the weekend and Cam Smith fought until the bitterly cold end at The Open.
The week’s worst conditions arrived and stayed for Sunday’s final round at Royal Portrush with Smith grinding out a 5-over-76 to finish at 1-under for the week in a share of 20th.
The rising star’s previous two appearances have yielded a missed cut and a 78th finish last year, but at just 25 Smith has now recorded top 20s in three of the game’s four Majors.
In The Open’s first trip back to Northern Ireland in 68 years, it was a local hero who lifted the Claret Jug.
Crowd favourite Shane Lowry out-muscled playing partner and main challenger Tommy Fleetwood with a Sunday 72 to win by six shots at 15-under.
There was next to no hope of replicating Saturday’s ball-striking performance in Sunday’s wild weather. Smith scrambled admirably and with birdie at the 10th had only surrendered one stroke for the round.
Another dropped shot at 12 preceded three more “good bogeys” from the 15th onwards but Smith was upbeat after his best Open finish in his third attempt.
“That was probably something I haven’t experienced for a while,” Smith said “It was just brutal.”
“It seemed like you couldn’t control your ball no matter how good a strike you had or how good you thought your read was. It was just everywhere.
“It would have been nice to hole a few more putts throughout the week and be right up there, but it is what it is. This was probably my favourite (Major) to watch growing up, not knowing how brutal it could be over here.
“Any tournament, regardless of what it is, to show up and be in the third last group yesterday and then give it a pretty good crack there, it’s just all learning.”
As well as a cheque for $US91,350, Smith will earn some much needed points on the Presidents Cup rankings when they’re updated this week.
The 25-year-old is desperate to automatically qualify for Ernie Els’s Internationals team when the top eight is finalised following the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Smith is hoping he won’t need to be one of the South African’s four captain’s picks in order to punch his ticket to Royal Melbourne, though he has struck up a friendship with Els in recent months.
“That’s been my goal since the start of the year, to get on that team,” Smith said.
“I had a good run when they started taking the rankings and then fell off through the middle there. But I feel as though my game is coming around.”
“Marc and I actually played with Ernie at the Memorial Tournament, so we have and we haven’t.
“I know Ernie not too bad now so we just have a general chat, not so much about golf.”
Smith entered the week on the back of a stretch of golf he described as far from his best.
But by Monday afternoon he’d fallen in love with Royal Portrush and the North Coast links layout has freed Cam up to a point where he’s ready to attack the business end of the season.
“I guess you never know what golf can throw at you,” Smith said.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to hang in there, even though it’s going the wrong way.
“With my results in the past at this tournament, being right up there on the weekend is definitely a good thing, I think my game’s getting back to where it needs to be.
The show goes on for Smith as he heads straight to Memphis for the next stop on the PGA Tour calendar.
He’ll also play the Wyndham Championship in the hope of climbing the FedEx Cup standings and qualifying for the Playoffs.
“Hopefully next week in Memphis, a little bit of stress off. No cut, 78 guys,” Smith said, “hopefully I can go there and play similar to what I did this week.”