Short game, long road helps Smith to title

·4-min read

A kid too small to emulate his namesake's stellar rugby league career, Cameron Smith chose to do it in golf instead.

He was 12, playing for the Albany Creek Crushers in Brisbane, when he gave up on his footy dreams.

But by then Smith could already beat dad Des, scratch golfer and club champion, at their local Wantima Country Club course.

A standout junior and Australian Amateur Champion in 2013, Smith's rise to beer-swilling, mullet-sporting, putt-sinking 2022 British Open champion could appear a mere formality.

But it's been anything but, the mad Brisbane Broncos NRL fan and Queenslander drawing on that State of Origin spirit to simply reach the PGA Tour let alone flourish on it.

Wearing his traditional day-four maroon and lugging a Broncos backpack around the course, Smith's 64 was the lowest final round at St Andrews historic Old Course and featured five straight birdies in a back-nine of 30.

His win ensured the famous Claret Jug was back to Australian hands for the first time in 29 years.

And it continued a run of Australian hoodoo busters on the biggest sporting stages after Ash Barty, in Scotland to watch Smith this week, broke the country's 41-year women's Wimbledon drought last year.

Now he's set to rise to No.2 in the world, but it was so close to never happening.

Like on the 17th with his clutch two-putt around the Road Hole bunker, a clean-shaved Smith needed to produce the goods against the odds to even earn his PGA Tour card.

In 2013, thinking competition began the following day, he turned up for a practice round on the Tour Q-School too late and missed his tee time.

He was disqualified and forced onto the Asian Tour, where he did enough to snaffle the last entry on the co-sanctioned CIMB Classic.

Smith finished fifth there but then failed to cement his status, missing five cuts before producing four birdies in six holes at the US Open sectional qualifier to book a trip to his first major championship.

He finished fourth there, a final-hole birdie thanks to a brilliant approach from 260m ensuring a 2015-6 Tour card and a Masters invite.

A team win at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans alongside Jonas Blixt won Smith his first PGA title in 2017 and he backed it up with a playoff win in the Australian PGA Championship to finish the year.

But the homesickness didn't fade, with Smith prioritising time in Australia and playing just 10 US events in the six months following his New Orleans win.

He missed the cut in seven of them.

Another Australian PGA title followed in 2018 as well as a fifth place in his second Masters appearance and by then Smith knew he had to get serious.

He set up a home away from home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, just a few sweet one-woods from TPC Sawgrass.

More settled, his career quickly gathered steam and Smith made history in 2020 at Augusta as the first person to shoot four sub-70 rounds.

It was good enough for second as a major breakthrough beckoned.

Tenth at Augusta in 2021, he flirted with it again this year before settling for third.

That result came after already winning Hawaii's Tournament of Champions with a PGA record score of 34-under.

He then produced more mind-blowing golf to win the Players Championship on his nearby Sawgrass course.

At St Andrews the putts were dropping across a hot opening two rounds, until they weren't in a one-over third round that meant he started the final day four shots back from local hope Rory McIlroy.

Smith was chatting to media and missed the Maroons' latest and perhaps greatest backs-to-the-wall State of Origin victory on Open eve.

Not to worry though as the "other" Cameron Smith would soon manufacture his own famous Queenslander moment.

Now 28, Smith has kept his feet firmly planted despite the heights reached, the mullet hairstyle a sign of his easy-going nature that's endeared him to the US golfing public.

Still mindful of the challenges he faced, Smith now hosts talented Australian juniors and fresh-faced professionals at his Florida home.

They go fishing, he shows off his car collection and they bond over a love of freshly-mowed lawns, probably over a couple of cold beers.

It all sounds extremely relatable to the average Australian man.

That is until you catch a glimpse of Cameron Smith's short game.

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