KAPALUA, Hawaii – Cameron Smith is a champion golf needs.
Don’t get us wrong. There’s not a shortage of great players and personalities on the PGA TOUR; the opposite, in fact. But in Smith we get a true ‘everyman.’ Or in his native tongue, a fair dinkum top bloke we can all relate to.
The 28-year-old secured his fourth PGA TOUR win with a record-smashing week in Maui at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, finishing at 34-under with rounds of 65-64-64-65, marking the most under par in a four-round TOUR event in history.
He managed to hold off a ferocious challenge from world No. 1 Jon Rahm in the process, the Spaniard settling for runner-up after Smith’s 8-under 65 bested his 7-under 66 on Sunday. In the group ahead, countryman Matt Jones carded a course record-tying 61 to keep both on their toes.
The win was an important step in Smith’s evolution as he looks to prove himself against the best. He held the lead outright after the first two rounds and then shared it with Rahm through three rounds before closing the deal.
“It was intense,” Smith said of the challenge. “Jonny and I played well the whole day. We had Matty in the group in front lighting it up as well. So, yeah, unreal round, something I’ll never forget for sure.
“Rahm’s the best golfer in the world and there’s many reasons why he is. He flushes it and it seems like he drains every putt he looks at, so it was nice to overcome that and kind of give some punches back.
“I just played really solid the whole week. Obviously being a leader is not easy. Restless sleeps. I feel like I spent a lot of time looking at the ceiling in bed this week. I haven’t done that before. It was nice to kind of see where my game’s at against some of the best players in the world. I’ve been working hard and it’s paid off early in the season.”
The result catapulted Smith to 10th in the Official World Golf Ranking, his first appearance inside the top 10, and to third in the FedExCup. He now must reset some of his season goals, having already met them.
“It took me a while to get into the top 20, so it’s really cool,” Smith said after raising the trophy at Kapalua. “That was one of my goals this year, to get into the top 10. It’s nice that that’s done and dusted. Hopefully, I can keep cruising up those world rankings.”
Smith has a great chance next week to do just that, as he heads to the Sony Open in Hawaii. He won at Waialae CC in 2020 and now is one of just six players to have secured the PGA TOUR’s Hawaii double.
One of his goals is to lead the International Presidents Cup Team to a much-wanted victory over the U.S. Team at Quail Hollow later this year. There is no doubt Smith has the potential to be the spiritual leader of the International Team for the next decade and beyond, such is his hunger for the fight.
Smith made his Presidents Cup debut in 2019 at Royal Melbourne, but it’s no secret he was fired up to miss two sessions under Captain Ernie Els. The desire in his belly helped him overcome a three-hole deficit in Singles to defeat Justin Thomas and keep the Cup alive at the time before the International Team fell, 16-14.
2022 Captain Trevor Immelman knows he’ll have a revved-up competitor on his hands this year.
“I definitely want to be on that team,” Smith said. “I enjoyed the tournament so much last time that I would be devastated if I missed out. And it’s been one of my goals since I’ve turned pro to be on the team, and I’ll try and be there again.”
Coincidentally, Smith’s record 34-under performance at Kapalua took a record from Els, who prior to this week held the TOUR’s scoring record with a 31-under total at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in 2003 (Rahm and Jones also bested Els’ mark this week). But there’s no bad blood between the pair. Smith understood and accepted Els’ tactics in Melbourne that almost garnered the International Team’s first win over the U.S. since 1998. He wasn’t going to pout about it, just prove his worth when his chance came.
Smith is unassuming. Smith is humble. And while some say the fact he sports a mullet-and-mustache combination that gets plenty of attention is a strange juxtaposition to those traits, the reality is that his style is not for show. It’s just who he is.
Born into humble means in the working-class suburbs of Brisbane, Australia, Smith refuses to let his success get to his head. He wants to get all he can out of his talent, but he won’t compromise who is to get there. His family, friends and countrymen wouldn’t let him, anyway.
He’s not out to impress anyone. He doesn’t get worked up about what others think about him. If he’s the best version of himself, he’s happy. Something inside a lot of us wants to be like Cameron Smith.
“There’s no real reason to change my personality. I think my dad would whip me, to be honest, if I did,” he laughed jokingly. “It’s just how I’ve been brought up. I’ve been brought up to be kind of the modest guy that respects everyone … and why would you try to be someone you’re not?”
Last year Smith was asked what he’d do if he won the $15 million FedExCup bonus. He said he’d help his family and maybe buy a little more fishing gear. After earning $1.476 million in Maui – “I’ll have to sleep on that one, to be honest. I mean, I’m quite content with where I’m at. I know mum’s car’s probably getting four or five years old, so maybe a new car for mum.”
Yes, he also thinks of his mother first in these moments. He’s the champion we need.
IMAGE SOURCE: Getty Images