Cameron Smith secured his maiden major win at the 150th edition of The Open by focussing on one hole at a time, to reel in Rory McIlroy, in an impressive display of skill, tenacity and composure.
Cameron Smith’s demeanor doesn’t really fit the brash Aussie sports person stereotype, but his level of focus and ability to play in the moment was the deciding factor in overhauling McIlroy, with a masterclass in short-game precision, and links aggression. Along the way, he became the first major champion in modern history to sign for two rounds of 64 or lower.
RSNG spoke to Cameron Smith ahead of his Open win to find out the story behind his early career, and the inspiration for his single-minded focus…
Golf vs Rugby League
Somewhere in Brisbane, Australia about the turn of the Millennium, Des Smith – a scratch golfer himself – left his work office for the day as he normally would, ready to collect his son from school.
Smith Sr would take the young Cameron Smith to the driving range, almost daily; and at the age of six, could already see that there was some promise in the boy’s golf game that, with some careful nurturing and natural progression, may see him fulfill enough potential to make a career out of the sport.
Cameron Smith’s father said that even at such a young age his lad would be hitting the ball with incredible accuracy, as well as forming great technique. In short, his lad looked way above any player he’d ever seen of an equivalent age.
However, despite someone driven and excited at the prospect of his son making a career out of the sport he loved, Des fired just one piece of advice at his son: “play less rugby!”
Appreciate what you’re good at, because the satisfaction you take from being brilliant at one thing, rather than okay at a number of things, will always be greater
It was a first grounding in simplicity that Cameron Smith has taken forward into what emerged as a flourishing golf scholarship. “He knew contact sport was not only a distraction mentally, but could challenge and impair me when it came to maximizing how I was striking the ball,” says Smith.
“From the very early days, his philosophy was that if I wanted to play golf, then play golf. Don’t try to do other things, don’t be a jack of all trades – just appreciate what you’re good at, because the satisfaction you take from being brilliant at one thing rather than okay at a number of things, will always be greater.
“And that was difficult for me, because rugby league is huge in Brisbane, and I had a childhood where all my mates were going off playing in these matches, while I was wandering around a golf course; but it was a grounding that worked.”
The $15m Fishing Rod
The ability to strip things back to basics and to leave the baggage and the noise at the tee mat reflects too in the 28-year-old’s attitude towards the PGA opponents he battles week-in, week-out.
Smith was asked by a journalist not so long ago what he would do with $15 million if he was to win the sport’s flagship trophy for the PGA Tour’s season. His answer was a simple one:
“$15 million? I don’t really know. I mean, to be honest, I am really comfortable with what I have at the moment. I’m not sure what I would do with any more. Maybe I would buy some more fishing equipment?!”
In everything I do, I am about breaking things down to a true base level, where I exist just in that moment, by myself
Cameron Smith’s steely-eyed focus is always trained less on the trappings of success and more on how he can progress as a golfer. It’s an approach that enabled him to break into the world’s top 10 golfers, and now bag his maiden major win.
While Smith stepped away from playing rugby league, he still takes inspiration from the achievements of those athletes. “When I watch the State of Origin [rugby league] matches, you’re talking about one side who is usually the less favored side, the underdog, and another who is expected to romp home.
“But the way that they play the game, their will to win, the fight that they bring to the contest, and the fact that they will do anything and everything for each of their team-mates, really makes me feel that I should have that same mindset.
“Naturally my game is based on a small team – of one – but I break that down into aspects of my game needing to complement each other.
“I don’t have to look out for team-mates, but I do need to talk myself round the course – I need to behave like my physical and mental game are two separate parts of an equation, and the more I can get those focused and firing together, the better chance I have. It really is as simple as that, for me.
“In everything I do, I am about breaking things down to a true base level, where I exist just in that moment, by myself.”
Back To Basics
While Smith’s focus is clearly on himself, his well-documented public comment about Patrick Reed’s apparent bunker misdemeanor in the Hero World Challenge in December 2019, shows that the Aussie won’t condone doing absolutely anything to win.
He was warned by the PGA Tour about his future conduct regarding making such remarks about fellow professionals, and he did say that he was friends with Reed and didn’t want to say anything bad about him, but: “Anyone cheating the rules? I’m not up for that.”
In the past, Smith has said that his focus has not been what it should be unless he finds himself either in contention for a tournament win, or knows what it takes to get there. “I think most players will struggle to get motivated if they’re two thirds down the leaderboard and playing for nothing. I would rather save the intensity of my game for another day.”
He’s a player who likes courses where he can get creative or be more inventive than just playing the routine layups and putts, which is why Augusta will always be one of his favorite courses.
I think of what my dad would always say, ‘if you want to play golf, just play golf’ – those simple words have guided me through so much
“If I know I can play a unique shot or I can go a different way to get a birdie or whatever, that invigorates me and makes me feel that I can play the game a variety of ways; and if I can picture a route to win, then it boosts my positive energy.
“That’s not me saying that I am not interested if I’m not near the top of the leaderboard, but we’re all in this game to win and that’s the aim for all of us. So, the motivation is always to be focused on finding that path to where I need to be, and then to execute it. Paying attention to the path, rather than just the destination, enables Camerson Smith to keep his focus on the here and now of the shot in front of him. But when the pressure builds, creating internal noise and distractions, he knows who he needs to listen to, to bring himself back into the game:
“And yet none of that counts for anything if you are swamped with thoughts and distractions. I think of what my Dad would always say, ‘If you want to play golf, just play golf.’ Those simple words have guided me through so much, and they inspire my whole game.”
WHAT NEXT? Find out how Rory McIlroy, the man who Cameron Smith beat to take The Open, builds such a powerful drive in this RSNG interview…