Inside a home office in the Ponte Vedra area, beyond a concrete wall and immaculately manicured Bermuda lawns, the claret jug sits atop an oak desk facing Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. The sterling silver trophy’s spout, shaped like a swan’s beak, and its handle, which resembles a bass clef, only add to this regal scene inside Open champion Cameron Smith’s workspace. The grandeur of the jug contrasts hilariously with Smith’s trademark blond mullet.

There are obvious signs this is a major winner’s office – tournament trophies, Titleist staff bags filled with old clubs and framed magazine covers he’s featured on. But for this interview, the 29-year-old Queenslander bears little resemblance to a professional golfer who won five times, across three different tours, in 2022. Smith is wearing a crisp, white T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of his favourite beer, XXXX Gold, and a hat from his beloved Brisbane Broncos rugby league team.

Smith picks up the claret jug from the desk, where the 150-year-old trophy has mainly lived since he claimed it at St Andrews last July. The jug stands 53 centimetres tall, measures 14 centimetres in diameter and weighs two-and-a-half kilograms. It was first awarded to the winner of the 1873 Open, before a replica was introduced in 1928 and the original placed in a museum. Since then, champions like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Seve Ballesteros have helped it become one of the most recognisable trophies in sports. Smith is the 56th different winner in the 95 years of the new jug. Like every other Open champion, he took the jug home for a 12-month stint and will return it to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, organiser of the Open. For Smith, that’s at the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool this month.
He was also sent a replica to keep, and Open champions can purchase up to three more.

Getty images: Harry How, Warren Little

Gazing down at the trophy, Smith is not quite smiling. Although, a look of contentment suggests he’s beaming on the inside. He started the final round at the 150th Open four shots behind 54-hole leaders Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland. McIlroy, whose four major wins include the 2014 Open, was the betting and crowd favourite. But Smith stunned the golf world by snatching the lead from McIlroy’s grasp in the dying stages. “It’s still a blur,” Smith says, without looking up.

The man who engraves the jug each year, Garry Harvey, had an inkling he’d be etching Smith’s name. “I didn’t know too much about Cameron Smith, other than he had a funny hairstyle, let’s say, for a golfer,” says Harvey, a former European Tour player who played in the 1979 Open at Royal Lytham. “But I could see Smith was smiling the entire time; having fun. Rory looked a wee bit concerned about how things were going.”

Smith was smiling because it was good fun to shoot a back-nine score of 30, the lowest ever closing nine by an Open winner. That came courtesy of five straight birdies from the Old Course’s 10th hole. “I went from thinking, Oh s–t, I’ve just lost my chance at winning The Open, when I missed a short birdie putt on the ninth, to being tied for the lead with four holes to play,” Smith says. One more birdie on the 18th hole defeated Cameron Young, Smith’s playing partner, by one shot. McIlroy finished third.

Smith’s 64 equalled the lowest final round by a champion, while his 20-under par (268) total earned the scoring record for the 30 Opens held at St Andrews. It eclipsed Tiger Woods’ 2000 total by one. “I watched the final round back on TV recently; the grey skies and the sound of the seagulls give me goosebumps,” Smith says.

The jug began its journey with Smith that Sunday night. A lively afterparty inside the Old Course Hotel – located just right of the Road Hole where Smith struck a famously daring putt around its infamous greenside bunker to save par – left plenty of revellers with sore heads the next morning. ‘Pub classic’ songs like “Khe Sanh” by Cold Chisel and “New Sensation” by INXS blasted from the speakers. Smith was sporting a backwards baseball cap and the Open’s gold medal – another trophy given to the champion – pinned to his chest. He was determined to find out exactly how many beers would fit in the jug; turned out it was two Birra Morretti, an Italian lager. Tour pros like countryman Adam Scott attended, but caddies outnumbered players. Smith adores caddies. There were also officials from Australian golf’s governing bodies and myriad other guests, like international rugby stars such as Aussie George Gregan and South Africa’s Bryan Habana. Everyone wanted a photo with Smith and the jug. Smith left the party just after 1am.

Beau Kelly, 4, son of Matt Kelly, caddie to Marc Leishman.

“My rental car was still in caddie parking at the Old Course the next morning,” says New Zealand’s Sam Pinfold, Smith’s long-time caddie. “I walked through the town, right across the 18th fairway, to the parking lot. I saw the giant yellow leaderboard which still read, ‘Congratulations, Cameron Smith!’ I was pretty emotional.”

At first, Smith couldn’t fit the jug’s road case in the overhead compartment of a commercial flight from Edinburgh to Chicago, until he figured out the correct angle. In Chicago, a NetJets private plane was organised to fly to Jacksonville, Florida, with Smith, his manager, Bud Martin, Pinfold and two Ponte Vedra-area residents, PGA Tour pro Billy Horschel, and John Limanti, who caddies for Keith Mitchell.

On that two-hour private flight, seven-time PGA Tour winner Horschel, whose tie for 21st at St Andrews earned him a career-best Open result, had his second drink from the claret jug. Earlier in his career, though, Horschel refrained from drinking from the jug, fearing bad luck in his own quest to win an Open.

“I was on a plane home with Zach [Johnson] in 2015 and everyone drank from the jug except me; I wanted to wait,” Horschel says. But two years ago, Horschel gave in. “I was at the hotel bar in 2021 with Collin Morikawa the night he won, and I thought, F–k it, I may never win one of these, so I took my chances,” Horschel says. “A year later, Cam won, so I drank from it again on that flight to Jacksonville.” Adds Limanti: “Cam was very chill on that flight, almost making sure the moment was real.”

Smith’s close friend and fellow Australian, six-time PGA Tour winner Marc Leishman, has not caved to the lure of drinking from the jug. Leishman briefly held the lead during the final round of the 2015 Open, but eventually lost to Johnson in a playoff at St Andrews that also included South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen.

“I was so proud of Cam,” Leishman says. “But I couldn’t help thinking about 2015 when I was holding it and how close I was to having my own name on it. It brought back a lot of memories; mostly positive but also some disappointment, too. I’m still hoping to have a drink out of it, one day, as a champion.”

Getty images: Harry How, Warren Little


Nine months on from the 150th Open, Smith laughs when asked what beverages have been consumed from the jug. “Everything you can think of,” Smith says. “I’ve drunk espresso from it some mornings, and espresso martinis some nights.”

Espresso is in Smith’s blood. Smith’s uncle, Trevor, owns a café called Pure Shot in the Brisbane suburb of Brendale. Trevor did his best to pour a flat white (espresso and steamed milk) into the jug. Last year, Smith succumbed to his inner coffee ‘hardo’ and drank a pour-over from it. That’s an intense procedure where boiling water soaks over ground coffee beans so that the mixture flows through a paper cone filter.

“I was by myself, drinking a pour-over out of the claret jug and looking out over the Intracoastal,” Smith says. “I laughed and thought, This is a bit too dorky. I looked over my shoulder, because I was worried that Jack [Wilkosz, Smith’s childhood friend and now assistant] or Shanel [Naoum, Smith’s fiancée] would walk in and ask, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

More bizarre items than pour-over coffee have been in the jug through the years. In 1995, John Daly ate chocolate ice cream from it after winning at St Andrews. In 2008, two-time Open winner Padraig Harrington’s son put ladybirds in there. In 2009, Stewart Cink had orange juice and barbecue sauce in it at various times. In 2015, Iowa-raised Johnson ate corn from it.

There’s been plenty of alcohol in the jug under Smith’s reign, too. It was originally designed to fit one bottle of claret – a British description for a Bordeaux red. Smith felt it appropriate to devour Australia’s most sought-after red, a Penfolds Grange, from it.

Premium tequila has also had a regular presence. Last August, Smith held his birthday at popular Jacksonville Beach restaurant, TacoLu. It became one of Smith’s favourite hangs when he moved to Florida in 2016 and its owner, Don Nicol, became a friend. “We put Partida Roble Fino in the jug, some Herradura Double Barrel margaritas and lots of Dos Equis beer,” Nicol says. Adds Smith, the first Jacksonville-based winner of The Open since 2001 champion David Duval: “TacoLu was one of my favourite nights with the jug because I could show the folks there, who love golf, a piece of history.”

While Smith was celebrating the jug, he was also dealing with speculation he was leaving the PGA Tour to sign with LIV Golf. The headlines lasted for longer than a month, from Smith’s Open winner’s press conference in mid-July until LIV announced his signature after the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in late August. It’s no wonder Smith ranked seventh for the most Googled golfers in the US in 2022.

Above: Smith’s caddie, Sam Pinfold, holds the 18th hole flag at the Old Course.

World No.2 at the time, Smith was LIV’s biggest signature in its inaugural season. The rival league, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, also signed major winners like Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau. But with Smith, the situation was more complicated. He lives minutes from the PGA Tour’s headquarters, and won its flagship
event, the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, four months before the 150th Open.

Not long after The Open, Smith called several figures in the golf world to inform them he was considering LIV Golf. One was Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A. “It was a really good conversation, and I didn’t feel bad about my decision when hanging up the phone,” Smith says. “Mr Slumbers is a true gentleman and told me, as a champion, I’d always be welcome at
The Open.”

McIlroy, who had become the PGA Tour’s most vocal supporter, also spoke to Smith about the exciting introduction of a series of $US20 million ‘designated’ events aimed at assembling the biggest stars. “I just wanted to tell Cam what was in the pipeline for the PGA Tour’s schedule,” McIlroy said. “I wanted him to have all the information.”

What Smith wanted was a longer offseason to spend more time in Australia. LIV, which doesn’t run between November and January, was offering a large, guaranteed-money contract. It also held the promise of an Australian event – which was held in April – to celebrate Smith’s all-Australian team, Ripper GC, which features Leishman, Matt Jones and Jed Morgan. The Adelaide event sold out with 77,000 fans across three days.

Horschel, a past winner of the PGA Tour’s season-long FedEx Cup race, appreciated Smith’s complex situation but also the lucrative offer. Coincidentally, Smith played his final round as a PGA Tour member with Horschel at East Lake. “Walking down 18, I put my arm around Cam and said, ‘Buddy, I love you. I don’t know what you’re gonna do, but I will always support you and have your back,’” Horschel says.

Smith’s decision was met with some backlash. Fans, media members and even some former golf greats questioned Smith’s departure at a time when his six career PGA Tour victories – three of which came in 2022 – were establishing a legacy. Nine-time major winner Gary Player wondered why Smith would defect to a tour that features 54-hole events, no cut and 48-player fields. LIV also has 12 four-man teams competing against each other. “What sort of tour is that?” Player mused.

Former Masters winner Fred Couples took several swipes. The first was on Twitter last September. “To all my friends who I missed birthdays & weddings… so sorry, I was busy earning a living on the @pgatour.” That was a reference to Smith saying the PGA Tour’s wraparound schedule had made it “tough to miss out on family and friends’ weddings and birthdays” in Australia. In the lead-up to the 2023 Masters, Couples also said at a breakfast before a PGA Tour Champions event, “I find that [reasoning] comical, because my favourite to ever play has five kids, 40 grandkids, and he has never missed anything – and that was Jack Nicklaus,” Couples said.

For several reasons, Smith didn’t bite back. “I had some great advice from my family and my team,” says Smith, whose father, Des, made several trips to the US last year. “My agent, Bud [Martin, the global head of Wasserman’s golf division] helped me navigate things; he’s been around the game for a long time and manages major winners like John Daly and Jason Day.”

Smith also felt some obligation to take the high road while he was an ambassador for the Open Championship. “I don’t think I would have [retaliated] regardless of winning The Open,” Smith says. “But I do feel being an Open champion comes with a responsibility to make the right decision, or know when to hold something back you want to say. I don’t know why some people have said the things they have, especially fellow professionals I haven’t even met. Being the Open champion has some influence, but I think it’s more the way my parents [Des and mother, Sharon] raised me.”

Adds Horschel: “I thought the way Cam handled joining LIV was unbelievable and full of dignity,” he said. “My issue was with guys who left the PGA Tour and then threw s–t back at it. Cam never did that; he is a classy guy, and he was honest.”

Instead, Smith focused on playing. Only a week after Couples’ comments, Smith won LIV’s Chicago tournament. “Cam was getting some negative attention in the media, which I think was unfair,” Pinfold says. “Winning his second start on LIV showed people our mission is still to win golf tournaments.”

Smith with his idol, Adam Scott, at the 150th Open afterparty.


Last November, Smith jokingly gave Wilkosz, who grew up in Brisbane with Smith, a new job title in addition to his duties on tour. For the 15,000-kilometre trip from Florida to Australia where Smith was playing in the 2022 Australian PGA Championship and Australian Open, Wilkosz was ‘Head of Jug Security’.

At Los Angeles International Airport, where Smith and co. were flying to Brisbane, Wilkosz was told a Transport Security Administration (TSA) agent wanted to examine the roadcase’s contents after an X-ray illuminated the outline of the jug. That’s usually an iconic image among golf fans, but not for scrupulous TSA staff. Another agent performed an explosives swab wearing white gloves.

“The agent got to hold the jug, but probably didn’t know what it meant,” Wilkosz says. Adds Smith: “A couple of travellers behind us saw the X-ray and said, ‘Holy s–t, is that the real claret jug?!’ That turned into a quick show-and-tell in the security line.”

Arriving at Brisbane Airport, Smith was swarmed by fans and TV crews in the terminal. He had brought the jug Down Under for the first time since 1993, when Greg Norman, now LIV Golf’s commissioner, won his second Open title.

The jug was soon at Smith’s childhood course, Wantima Country Club. Wantima is not a country club in the American sense, more a working-class, publicly accessible golf club 30 minutes north of Brisbane’s CBD. Members affectionately refer to it as “Wan-gusta National”. The course sits on a mostly flat piece of land. Firm, fast fairways are lined by gum trees, and the greens are small and tricky. Inside the clubhouse, there is a classy shrine to Smith’s career near the front entrance, including a signed shirt Smith wore during his PGA Tour debut at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in 2014.

Wantima hosted a celebration for Smith and 200 members. Smith sat for a 45-minute Q&A session before passing the jug around to the members to chug XXXX Gold from it. “Some were even holding the jug like a baby,” Jason Patterson, Wantima’s general manager, recalls. Adds Smith: “It was pretty neat for a little club on the north side of Brisbane to have the claret jug in the clubhouse.”

Days later, at the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland Golf Club, Brisbane’s mayor presented Smith with a key to the city. Smith then won the DP World Tour co-sanctioned Australian PGA Championship by three shots, his fifth victory of 2022. But this was the most emotional. Among the huge contingent of family and friends in the gallery, who hadn’t seen Smith play in person since before the COVID-19 pandemic, was his grandmother, Carol. She’d undergone several chemotherapy treatments in the lead-up to the Australian PGA but walked all 72 holes wearing a custom-made T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Team Smith’.

The claret jug sits at TacoLu, one of Smith’s favourite restaurants in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.

“Everyone told her to pace herself, but she was out there every day, like a trooper. It was inspiring,” Smith says. For her efforts, Carol got to hold the claret jug and the Australian PGA’s Joe Kirkwood Cup that week. “Out of all the people who have touched the claret jug, all my grandparents holding it in my hometown is the most special memory I have,” Smith says.

In January, the jug returned to the US. Things have slowed down this year, and Smith has been able to reflect more deeply on everything. Specifically, what it has meant to be the Open champion. “I think it’s matured me a little bit; it’s made me want to respect the game and those who play it and watch it even more,” he says.

In his office, Smith runs his fingers over some of the biggest names to have won The Open multiple times; Peter Thomson (five), Tom Watson (five), Woods (three), Arnold Palmer (two) and Lee Trevino (two), all of whom managed to successfully defend an Open. Smith’s hands arrive at his own name. He pauses, thinking about delivering the jug back to Slumbers and the R&A at Royal Liverpool, known as ‘Hoylake’, later this month.

“I might be emotional,” Smith says. “It’s been so special to have this jug for a year. Having a replica helps, but it’s nothing like the real thing. Handing it back will fire me up for the week, because I really don’t want to give it back.”