When PGA Tour caddie Sam Pinfold dreamed of his boss, Cameron Smith, contending in a final round at Augusta National, he imagined himself only several paces away, wearing Augusta National’s famous white overalls and delivering sound advice to the young Australian in the biggest moment of his career.
What Pinfold did not imagine was that during Smith’s first genuine chance to win the Masters, he would be 13,400 kilometres away in his native New Zealand – watching on TV from the couch at his home near Wellington while preparing for a Masters Monday golf day at Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club. Paraparaumu is famous for producing another Wellington-area caddie, Steve Williams, who once convinced his former employer, Tiger Woods, to contest the 2002 New Zealand Open there.
Travel restrictions, set out by the New Zealand government, brought Pinfold home after the US Open in September so he could log some home time with family before a long stint in the US next year on Smith’s bag.
With Australian caddie Matthew “Bussy” Tritton temporarily on Smith’s bag, the 27-year-old Brisbane pro shared the Masters lead through 36 holes. He moved within a shot of eventual winner Dustin Johnson midway through the front nine on Sunday at Augusta National and wound up finished tied for second, five shots behind the world No.1, former US Open winner and now first-time Masters champion.
“It was a strange and different feeling, not being there, with how good Cam was playing. It was obviously a very powerless feeling,” Pinfold, or as Smith affectionately calls him, ‘Pinna’, tells Australian Golf Digest.
Pinfold – a modest and humble caddie who has previously looped for Trevor Immelman and Ryo Ishikawa – would be the last person to make Smith’s valiant run at a green jacket about himself.
Rather, it is this writer who is fascinated by the predicament, brought on by COVID-19, that in the most thrilling moment of Smith’s exciting career, the two people closest to Smith professionally were not even in the US, let alone at Augusta.
That’s not to suggest they weren’t excited, emotional and proud.
“Watching his reactions, I was jumping off the couch, fist-pumping and clapping on his putts,” Pinfold says. “I was proud of not only the way Cam played, but the way he conducted himself. Cam is the sort of player I’m proud to be associated with, even if I wasn’t there.”
While Pinfold was in New Zealand, Grant Field, Smith’s coach since he was 12 years of age, was at home on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Like Pinfold, Field would normally be at the Masters, as part of his frequent coaching trips to the US each year for Smith. Like Pinfold, Field couldn’t just catch up on sleep after the final round coverage had finished on Monday morning, local time. Field is one of the most respected swing gurus in Australia and had a training session with his Queensland state team, of which he is the head coach.
“I told the juniors: if Cam wins, we’re cancelling Monday’s session,” Field says with a laugh. “They all understood, but we didn’t have to seeing as DJ won.”
Field sees the bright side of not being at the Masters, where he’d normally be craning his neck to get a glimpse of Smith through the thousands of fans normally lining the fairways of Augusta National.
“I actually got to see a lot more of him this week than normal; with the way the app works, the fact he was in contention or the lead throughout the whole tournament. From that point of view it was great,” says Field of the state-of-the-art Masters official smartphone app, which partnered with IBM to deliver essentially live coverage of every shot of every player in the Masters field.
“But it was still very difficult not being there, because I wasn’t getting the full scope of Cam walking each hole, seeing his body language and reactions, seeing how difficult each shot was and debriefing after each round. Still, it was enjoyable.”
Pinfold and Field know Smith’s game better than anyone. Even they were impressed as Smith became the first ever player in the history of the Masters to card all four rounds in the 60s.
In the 83 previous editions, no player had achieved that feat. Not even Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus or Jordan Spieth. Smith carded scores of 67-68-69-69 to finish at 15-under par. Smith’s score relative to par would have been good enough to win all but six previous editions of the Masters in regulation.
“His short game was world class and his putting was phenomenal, but every time they showed Cam on TV, he had a smile on his face and a steely, focus in his eyes. That showed me how much he wanted it,” Pinfold says.
Pinfold, already counting the days until next year’s April Masters, says Smith would walk away from this Masters as a different player.
“Any time you get in contention in any tournament, you come out a better player and you won’t get any more pressure than competing with the world No.1 in the final round of the Masters,” Pinfold says.
Smith – who tied for fifth at Augusta National after shooting 30 on the back nine while playing with Johnson in the final round in 2018 – is one step closer to donning the famous Masters green jacket, according to Field and Pinfold. Smith’s fellow Queenslander Adam Scott is the only Australian to win the Masters (2013).
“I’ve always thought Cam has the ability to win a Major championship,” Field says. “It could be any of the four, but Augusta suits him best because he’s a good iron player, he’s a world-class wedge player and putter and you have to have imagination to compete around Augusta and he has that in bucketloads.”
“He’s only a young fella and he’s going to get plenty more cracks at Augusta,” adds Pinfold.
If he does, you can guarantee Field and Pinfold will be there.