Cameron Smith is looking to break into the golfing elite this year, and if his two top five finishes at the US Open and the Masters are anything to go by, he shouldn’t have a problem.
However, the 26-year-old is freely aware of the task at hand, such is the competition in the game at the moment. After clinching the FedEx Cup Series event in Hawaii – the Sony Open – already this year, Smith’s confidence should be high.
His play-off victory at that event in January over Brandon Steele was his second on the tour and fourth overall, adding to his back-to-back Australian PGA Championship victories.
Turning professional at the tender age of 19 has been a blessing for the Brisbane native, who now holds a residence in Jacksonville, Florida. He says that the experience of learning the game at a high level so young has been a huge benefit.
After a mystery illness curtailed his 2016/ 17 season, now sitting at world number 37, Smith wants to gatecrash the party at the top end of the rankings and get a few more wins under his belt – who knows, maybe even a major?
RSNG You turned professional when you were still in your teens. Are you now reaping the rewards because of the experience you have now and still only being 26?
CAMERON SMITH, THE GOLFING GATECRASHER ‘Yeah, I think so, and I made sure that I wasn’t putting too much pressure on myself to win anything too soon – the reason being there were so many good players on the European and PGA Tours and only one player can win each week – that hasn’t changed now!’
‘So, the idea from the off was to learn on the PGA Tour of Australasia, where I was able to win two events, and then just two years later, I was finishing tied-fourth in the US Open after a good finish to that event. I got a special membership, which albeit was only temporary, but playing in those events that I was allowed to on the PGA Tour.’
‘That gave me a high enough finish on the money list to get a PGA Tour card proper for the next season. It was such a confidence boost and I like to think that I haven’t looked back.’
‘I would never use the magnitude of an event as an excuse for playing below my best’
RSNG It must have been daunting ascending so quickly?
CS ‘It was but it’s not the sort of thing you think about when you’re about to hit a 20ft putt.’
‘I know the point you’re making – perhaps in those moments away from the course I did wonder if I was out of my depth… perhaps at first. But you can’t survive with that sort of mindset, and I quickly told myself I was deserving of a place. As things have played out and given my steady improvement, I think I’ve proved that.’
‘But like I say, in those key moments in competition, all you’re thinking about is the technical aspect of that shot. Nothing else really comes into it, so I would never use the magnitude of an event as an excuse for playing below my best.’
RSNG How did you get into the game of golf?
CS ‘I’d say that I was very young when my dad decided that he would start showing me what golf was. I was playing rugby through my early years and then when I got towards the age of 10, I was given a choice of what I wanted to do. It was quite a thing to be asked what I wanted to play more of.’
‘I don’t think that I really knew at the time how important that decision was, but all that I knew was that I loved golf and I thought it would be harder getting injured when you don’t have people running at you trying to take the ball off you! In golf, I hit the ball away and no-one is looking to take it off me when I have it, haha!’
RSNG You went into the 2019 Australian PGA Championship looking for a third successive win in that event. No player had attempted that in over a century. Was the lead-up to that tournament any different than normal?
CS ‘It was quite interesting with it being the week leading up to Christmas, but also having the President’s Cup the week before was also quite a pressured event and with it being my debut and the way that it went, it may have taken its toll a little.’
‘It was always going to be difficult to win a third one, but that was never going to stop me enjoying it, and my time back home.’
‘Even though you’re travelling around the world playing the game that you love, seeing new and wonderful places in the process, it’s always nice to come back home. I get the chance to spend a bit of time off the golf course with friends and family, so that’s always nice.’
‘The doctors could only put it down to some sort of parasite that got into my body and it really sapped all of my energy and strength’
*RSNG In 2016, you had a mystery illness which struck you down just as you were playing well. That must have been frustrating?
CS * ‘It really was and more so because I never really found out what it was that was stopping me from playing. The doctors could only put it down to some sort of parasite which got into my body and it really sapped all of my energy and strength.’
‘I lost so much weight that I knew something was wrong. After that, it took a little bit of time trying to get myself back fit and ready to play at the highest level again, but I’m just happy that I’ve had a couple of years without any major problems now.’
‘When something like that happens, it’s scary. In the dark moments you start wondering if you’ll ever get back to where you were. Thankfully, I have done, and now I’m ready to push on again into the top 30.’
WHAT NEXT? Read our exclusive interview with Graeme McDowell here.