Shooting 64 in the final round of the Open Championship is a dream. To do it at the home of golf – on the Old Course of St Andrews… incredible. Then, you find out it was the 150th staging of the event – phenomenal.
Add in that winner Cameron Smith was not in the final pairing to go out and was four shots off the lead held jointly by pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy and Victor Hovland – and it was Smith’s maiden major victory.
The 29-year-old from Brisbane tells RSNG.com how he did it…
Playing The Pivotal Shot
“That Road Hole bunker is always in your eyeline, on your mind and it makes the second shot into the green a really difficult one.”
Cameron Smith walks up the 17th Road Hole fairway for the fourth time in competition that week, knowing he has a one-shot lead over world number two Rory McIlroy and a further shot over playing partner, Cameron Young.
With the immense pressure of not wanting to make any mistakes now, at the pivotal moment of the biggest golf event on the calendar, when there will only be one hole left to play – what is going through Smith’s mind?
Smith had experienced a few previous occasions where he had slipped up in major tournaments and was eager to atone for those. So, how does he play his third shot after his approach shot landed short and left his ball sitting in a perilous position?
“It turned out that I landed a lot further away from the pin that I would have liked,” the 2022 Open Champion muses on the memory of how the 71st hole at St Andrews went for him.
The good thing with links golf is that you can invent your own shots and play different to pretty much anywhere else we go to on Tour
“The way that 17th green is, you don’t need to be zoning in on the pin, you are only really aiming to be around 40ft away from it and then giving yourself a comfortable two-putt.
“But the good thing with links golf is that you can invent your own shots and play different to pretty much anywhere else we go to on Tour. So, I did my best with the putt and thankfully, I holed out for the par.”
Battling With The Best
While that may all sound fairly straightforward, Smith is seriously under-egging that pudding. It was his unbelievable performance with the flat stick which meant it was him who got to take the Claret Jug home.
Eight under par on the Old Course is a tremendous score at any time, but to do it on a Sunday as some of the world’s best golfers were all trying to outbattle each other, showed that Smith’s previous close calls were no false dawn.
“Once I had made my birdie on the 18th and my round was over, I was obviously waiting to see if Rory could force a playoff by eagling the last. If anyone was capable of doing that, he was.
“But luckily for me, he didn’t and that was it. The last stretch of holes at St Andrews are tough – as the 17th for me proved, that wind off the left makes them even more difficult.
“I tried to just play the same way I had all day and hoped that was enough to see me through. It turned out that it was, and I have to admit I was proud of how I handled it, knuckling down and seeing it through to the end.”
Four top 10 finishes at the Masters in five years signaled what Smith was capable of, and nine years after turning professional, he has finally etched his name onto one of the major trophies in the sport.
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His appearance can sometimes make him not only stand out, but also be amusing to the laymen and women spectators of golf, with his mustache and mullet a really prevalent part of his look; but he is no joker.
His golf has been doing the talking and hitting the headlines for some time now and he announced his arrival on the PGA Tour with his Players’ Championship win at Sawgrass in March 2022.
It would be surprising if Smith wasn’t the subject of a flurry of winning bets by punters, such is his strong short game and laser-guided putting. Links golf seems to suit him down to the ground, and he grew up with it.
Golf is as much a mental game as it is a physical one and no-one can play their best stuff if their mind is not focused
“To succeed at golf you really need to learn to play in a variety of conditions and on many different course layouts. With links golf, that can mean being tempted to play in a way which is unlike the majority of other courses.
“But I don’t feel that I played too differently over the four days at St Andrews. Yeah, you have to bear in mind the weather – especially the wind, as it whips in off the sea. But it’s about having the right swing and shots to deal with it.
“As my confidence grew with the shots I was playing and my tempo became comfortable, I resisted the temptation to go for it a little more and just made sure I kept up the birdie putts. That’s what you have to do there.”
Making It Past Moving Day
Many people may have felt that the seven-shot swing on Saturday’s ‘moving day,’ where the pendulum ended firmly in the direction of McIlroy and Hovland, would be the difference come Sunday teatime.
Smith was frustrated with his one over par 73 leaving that gap of four shots to the leading pair, who both shot 66 to put themselves in the driving seat.
It looked to be a familiar situation for the man who would be forgiven for thinking he was becoming something of a bridesmaid in majors. However, his final-day performance brought out the fight in him.
“I’ve learnt over time that when things don’t go my way, it’s best not to dwell on them. There can be a number of reasons why something happens the way it does, and you’ve just got to let it go. Tomorrow is always a new day.
“That’s exactly the way I felt after the Saturday 73 and the only way I was going to have any hope of catching the two in front was to get my head down, work hard, play my game and see what happened.
“Golf is as much a mental game as it is a physical one and no-one can play their best stuff if their mind is not focused. We’re all in the game to win and I used my patience and mindset to my advantage.”
Can Smith now use this huge win and proper announcement onto the world golf stage as a springboard for greater things? Time will tell, but such a solid mental approach to his craft is a clear signal that the next major win is surely close.
WHAT NEXT? For more on Cameron Smith, read RSNG.com’s previous interview with the aussie star where he reveals how playing in the moment gives him an edge.