Australia’s Travis Smyth talks about life on the Asian Tour and how excited he is to make his major debut at the 151st Open Championship.
In March, Travis Smyth earned his major-championship debut when he qualified for this month’s 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool when he finished third at the Asian Tour’s World City Championship presented by Hong Kong Golf Club. Despite the event being shortened to 54 holes due to poor weather, Smyth posted a nine-under par total and snared one of three spots in golf’s oldest major, given that the World City Championship was part of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s Open Qualifying Series.
Smyth, from Kiama on the New South Wales South Coast, plays primarily on the Asian Tour but also played three LIV Golf events last year through the partnership between the two tours. Smyth finished second in the Asian Tour’s International Series event in England last June and qualified for a handful of starts in LIV’s inaugural season. With results of T-33, T-29 and 22nd on the lucrative LIV league, Smyth won more than $1 million in the space of a couple of months. It changed his approach to touring golf, as he could reinvest the money into his travel and related expenses.
Smyth sat down with Australian Golf Digest for an interview about his major debut at Royal Liverpool and tour life in general.
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Australian Golf Digest: How satisfying was it to earn your debut at the Open Championship at the Hong Kong event?
Travis Smyth: It was incredible. I played great. We had some pretty harsh weather on the final day. I shot a nice four-under and just went from 10th to outright third. I was so focused on the conditions and playing well that after I had gone through the motions and finished the round, I was just like, “Oh, f–k! I’m in a major!” The Hong Kong Open [and other golf tournaments in Hong Kong] are usually very crowded with fans, there are leaderboards everywhere, so you know where you’re at. But it wasn’t really like that this time. I didn’t really know where I stood until I got to 17th hole.
What’s your experience with Royal Liverpool? Have you ever played it?
No, I’ve never played it. I know nothing about it other than it’s held the Open twice in the past 20 years or so [2006 and 2014]. I remember Tiger [Woods in 2006] and Rory [McIlroy in 2014] were the past two winners and the golf course played totally different both those times [firm in 2006 and wet/soft in 2014]. Not knowing the course could work in my favour; it’s an Open venue some of the younger guys haven’t played, so everyone will be in a similar boat. I’m excited. I don’t really know what to expect. I imagine I’m going to be pretty nervous but obviously excited. I’m going over a week early, I’ll stay in the Southport area and play Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale and a few other links courses. I’ll need it, because I’ll have hardly any preparation going into it because it’s the Asian Tour’s off-season.
What can you do in the United States to keep the game sharp competitively?
I’ve entered a couple of Monday qualifiers [on the Korn Ferry and PGA tours] and I’ll have also played a US Open qualifier by then. There’ll also be some good pro matches I can play at the club that I just joined, so maybe that’ll be my pressure practice.
Back to Royal Liverpool, what gives you confidence about playing The Open on a links course? Is there anything to draw from in terms of growing up on the coast in Australia, and learning how to flight the ball in windy conditions?
Yeah, there is, and I love the wind. I don’t love the rain. But I like the wind. Links golf is a style I’m excited for; I played a little bit of it as an amateur and we have some links courses in Australia, but they’re not as firm and fast as it is in the UK. I love the challenge of it. I’m imagining it’s going to be pretty bad weather, because every time I’ve been in the UK it’s been terrible. I’m excited for whatever happens. It’s my first major. I’m not going to be complaining about anything at all. Whatever the week throws at me, I’ll be up for it.
It sounds like your attitude is really what it should be for that test. How have you been able to get to that level of flexibility? Is it just being a pro golfer in Asia and travelling around the world on top of that?
Definitely. Playing in and around Asia, I feel like there’s always stuff that goes wrong. Not anything wrong with what the tour does, but just missing flights and the hot, uncomfortable weather, getting sick. I’ve been able to perform well when a lot of things have been pulling against me. I’d guess that has made me a little bit more resilient. People say The Open is a hard event if you get the bad side of the draw and you could have your work cut out not to miss the cut. I’m just not even letting my brain go there. I just want to go there, enjoy my week and walk away with my head high.
When you look back on the past year, it’s been a pivotal time in your career, especially with LIV Golf and the Asian Tour. How do you reflect on how much it’s benefited you?
Coming second at the Asian Tour event in Newcastle, UK, last year qualified me for three LIV events. The money I won on the Asian Tour’s International Series and LIV Golf took a lot of financial stress off my shoulders. And with that, I’ve been able to play and travel more freely. As a result, now that I’m not looking at how much I’m spending, I’m playing really good golf and investing in myself and it’s paying off.
What are your goals and expectations for The Open?
It’s hard to say. I don’t really know what to expect but I want to come in the top 20. That’d be a pretty good week. If things go well, I know I’m good enough to do better than that. But I feel like I would be pretty content with a top-20.
[Images: Getty images: Jonathan Ferrey/LIV Golf; feature image: Chris Trotman/LIV Golf]