Australia’s highest-ranked male golfer is a mullet-wearing lover of cars, fishing and pies. He enjoys beers with mates at the pub, mowing the lawn and taking the p***. His coach since the age of 10 says the only thing that has changed about that cheeky, funny, super-competitive kid is he now has more toys.
Meet Cameron Smith. World No. 21, Tokyo Olympian. The winner of three United States PGA tours and two European Tour titles, the 2017-2018 Australian PGA championships and $22.7 million in official prize money.
Australia’s next major winner? Quite possibly.
Golf nerd? You must be joking.
“It’s very difficult to be serious with Cam,“ says his coach, fellow Queenslander Grant Field. “He just wants to make the room fun and it definitely helps when day in, day out, they’ve got to be serious on the course. Cam’s always been really good at being able to leave the day behind him and switch off.
“Post-round, he might go to the range, of course, but once we’re done, we’re done and it’s just back to life as normal. It’s the same with his downtime and when he’s away from practice and play; he’s really good at leaving the clubs in the cupboard and doing other things that interest him and then when it’s time to work, he gets back to work and he’s all-in when he does that.“
Following a 2020-21 season he rates as the best and most consistent of his six since earning his US Tour card in 2015, top 10 is an ambition that Smith believes he is on track to achieve. “I think I just need to keep doin’ what I’m doin’,“ he says. “Maybe work a bit harder here and there. Throughout the middle of the season when golf is very hectic, I get quite lazy and I know that I do, so I just need to fix that up and we’re there.”
Field has long-believed his charge is capable of joining the likes of Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson and Colin Morikawa in the top echelon. Caveat: “It’s up to Cam. A lot of them are earning really good money where they are. Do they want to do that extra work to be one of the best in the world?“
So? Does Smith? “Yeah, he’s got an inner drive,’’ says the coach. “Outwardly, we sometimes don’t see it, but there’s somebody in there that definitely wants to tap out as good as he can be. I reckon the next five or 10 years is his golden window.“
The short and long of it
Young Cam was also little Cam. “He was tiny,” Field says of the kid introduced to the game by his father Des, a scratch-marker and club champion at the modest Wantima Country Club, north of Brisbane. Smith Jr enjoyed the team aspect of cricket and league, but loved the challenge of golf. Still does.
“Even to this day I feel like I’ve got so much improving to do and I don’t think there are a lot of sports like that,” he says.
He was 10 when, fortuitously, he played in Field’s group as part of a junior squad on the Sunshine Coast; soon after, a partnership was born. An exceptional short game – Field rates it top-five when it’s “on” – was part-natural, part-necessity, due to his diminutive stature. Smith made his first Golf Australia junior squad estimating he weighed just 60kg. Weight training would not come until later.
“At 14 or 15, I thought, ‘This kid’s gonna be a bit different’, and it’s worked out that way,“ Field says of the former national amateur champion. “He wasn’t blessed with massive physical abilities, he wasn’t a big boy that hit it a long way, but he had all these other skills that allowed him to compete against much older, much more experienced players, and he would want to beat everybody that was there.
“So now that he’s bigger and stronger and more athletic, he can mix that side of things with the best players in the world, but he’s also got the tools he developed very early on that have been the cornerstone of him building his career. And his ability to compete, his ability to want to hit that big shot at the right time, is huge.”
At 16, Smith played a practice round at the Australian Open with Marc Leishman, a pro 10 years his senior who has become his closest friend on tour. “It wasn’t instant, by any means,“ says Leishman, as the father-of-two recounts how the laid-back pair clicked when they stayed at the same hotel and spent extended time on the course together in Kuala Lumpur in 2015. “It is a big age difference, but I think our upbringings are really similar and we’re both really easy-going. Just two Aussie lads in America. Just hit it off.”
Leishman was already well established by the time Smith earned his US PGA tour card. Within months, Smith was playing what has been called “the golf shot that set up a career”: the three wood to within a metre of the flag on the final hole of the 2015 US Open, where the 21-year-old made the eagle putt to finish fourth on his major debut.
“I actually don’t remember a lot of the shots that I hit. I think that’s actually one of my greatest assets, is just forgetting!“ Smith jokes, when asked to nominate his all-time favourite. “But the three wood at Chambers Bay would be pretty tough to beat, given the circumstances and I guess what it gave me after that.”
Specifically, temporary membership for the rest of the PGA season, while the heady US$400,000 prize money combined with a strong finish at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia was enough to earn the Queenslander his Tour card.
Golf-wise, Leishman lauds his wedge game and putting in particular, while keen to stress that Smith does everything well. “But what sets him apart is he’s got that mongrel in him that I think you need to be really successful. Golf, there’s 156 guys in every tournament and only one can win, and you have to want to win more than everyone else. On the Tour, you’re playing against the best golfers from the past 30 years, so you need that belief that you’re as good or better than them, as well, and then you can take it to ’em.“
Smith’s first tour victory came in 2017, the same year he won the first of his Australian PGA titles and in between two near-misses at the Australian Open. In 2021, there was a trio of top-two results and five other top 10 finishes, while missing the cut just three of 24 times. And while his long game is the best it’s ever been and statistically around the tour average, Smith believes his longer irons, fairway woods and driver still lag behind his short game.
“Especially towards the end of this year, I thought I was playing really good golf … I was finishing good but I wasn’t really getting the most out of my game. I thought there could have been a little stretch there where I could have won a couple of tournaments and I just didn’t, and that’s made me more motivated than ever to just make myself a better golfer.”
Mullet makes the man
Covid is responsible for an awful lot of things. Including golf’s best-known ’do. Smith hadn’t been to the barber, so his naturally fast-growing hair got long. Then, after a few lagers with mates, out came the scissors and off came the sides. Voila.
“We all just thought it was funny and I’ve just kind of rolled with it,“ says Smith of what has now become his trademark. “I’d rather people talk about my golf game than my hair but I guess it is what it is.”
There was even a special Tokyo Olympics edition, in the form of AUS shaved into the so-called “side of the melon”; a touch that perhaps attracted more attention than his 10th placing. “It’s a talking point and he’s played great since he’s had it,“ says Leishman, who finished 51st at the Games. “I think he’s played too good with it to cut it off, so I think it’s going to be here to stay.”
Amusingly, too, Leishman ordered a mullet wig online and told Smith in their shared accommodation that he planned to wear it onto the first tee the next morning in New Orleans, an event the pair – runners-up in the 2018 World Cup of Golf at Metropolitan on Melbourne’s sandbelt – combined to win in April. “He was like, ‘Oh, look, I was gonna surprise you but I just figured you wouldn’t be able to hit your tee shot because I knew you’d be laughing too much’,” Smith says. “And it was a good laugh, for sure.”
A day or two earlier, when Smith said he needed his hair cut, Leishman offered his services, having had plenty of practice with his young sons. “I used my beard trimmer and away we went.“ Was he tempted to go a little further? “I wouldn’t dare. Wouldn’t dare!”
Former Masters champions Adam Scott, Matt Jones and Jason Day are other members of this tight-knit group of Australians that extends to caddies and Kiwis; and who, in Leishman’s words, sometimes have “too much fun – but that’s never a bad thing”. The friendships are even more important given the pandemic’s impact on travel back to Australia, with Smith and Leishman both resigned to the possibility of another offshore Christmas.
“It’s kinda nice to have a family away from the family and to hear familiar voices. I would say collectively all the Aussie boys are pretty close,“ Smith says. “We’ve all got the same sense of humour and we always talk about the same things. Stuff at home. Fishing. ‘Leish’ loves his beer and he’s always excited about new beers that he’s doin’. Just regular guys stuff, you know.”
The patriotic goodwill extends to Smith’s sponsorship of the eponymous Junior Classic held annually at Wantima, and his mentorship of the younger compatriots he hosts annually in Florida. When one of the latest crop, national amateur champion Louis Dobbelaar, needed some motivation to eat his greens at dinner, Smith changed the old “no ice-cream if you don’t eat your veggies” threat to “no dessert for anyone if Louis doesn’t eat his broccoli”. Just one floret. He didn’t.
Smith remembers himself at a similar age and stage. Turning pro, with limited financial support. “When I was 20 years-old, if I was told I was gonna hang out with Leish or Adam for a week or two, I would have really loved that. I just like kind of helping the younger guys out when I can. I don’t feel like it’s a chore or anything. We have a really good time and (some) have turned into really good mates as well.”
Big boys’ toys
Smith shares his waterside home in Jacksonville with three cars, two boats and a mower for his yard work. There are another two vehicles back in Oz and asking him to nominate the most precious is like singling out a favourite child, as he “loves ’em all exactly the same”.
Reeling in whatever’s biting is his other great passion, currently wahu offshore and redfish inshore, Everything he catches, he insists on cooking himself.
“I feel like fishing and driving for me is the place where I can just get away, put the phone down and just enjoy peace.“ Um, fast and loud is peaceful? “Well, it’s not, but it’s just away from everyone else.”
Told he has been described as a world-class p***-taker, Smith says making people happy is part of life and having a good time is central to his own. He misses afternoons at the pub with his mates from home, with Leishman describing his younger pal as just a down-to-earth Aussie lad. “Comes from a working-class family. He’s pretty well set-up with the fishing and I’m pretty well set-up with the brewery (Leishman Lager – what else?), so we’re both pretty happy.”
Both have also finished second in majors – Leishman at the 2015 British Open, and Smith behind Johnson at last year’s US Masters, where Field believes his creativity is hugely compatible with the famed Augusta layout.
“The imagination and the demands it puts on your iron play and your short game into greens I think plays right into his hands,” Field says. “All those things make it somewhere where I think Cam can definitely have success.”
It’s a place Smith has always enjoyed and the blond mullet/green jacket combination would certainly be a sight to behold. “I think the course really suits my game, it really suits my eye,“ he says. “There’s not a hole or a shot out there where I really feel uncomfortable, and it’s nice to get back there every year. I feel like the more you play that place the more you know. I’d love to crack one of those, that’s for sure.”
There is plenty of time. At 28, the likelihood is that his best years are either ahead or just arriving. “He’s shown that he can contend in majors and he’s so young, still,“ Leishman says. “He’s gonna have another 50, 60, 70 cracks at majors. You would think he would get one, but they’re not easy to win. So nothing’s a given, but I think he’s as good a chance as anyone to knock one off at some point.”
Picture, then, the possible celebration when he returns to Jacksonville. Fishin’, drivin’ and mowin’. Obviously some beer drinkin’. For a good bloke, it seems the good life has the potential to get even better.