Date: November 25, 2018
Author: Mark Hayes

A moment to hang our hats on

Golf is, too often, measured in trophies.

Moments for “non-winners” go unnoticed in TV highlights packages and for the millions of fans not on the hole when the magic happens, it drifts into the ether.

But today at Metropolitan, there were 10 special seconds that stand to live far longer, even though Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman ultimately came up short in their quest for the ISPS Handa Melbourne World Cup of Golf.

Closing on the runaway Belgians in the alternate shot format, Smith carved his second shot to the par-five 14th into a right greenside bunker and, with holes running out, the huge gallery sensed that Leishman had to play a great trap shot for the Aussies to realistically challenge.

The pin prick to the partisan crowd’s growing bubble of hope was swift and painful when the Victorian couldn’t manage to escape a tough lie and left Australia’s third in the sand.

Game over, surely?

Well, somebody forgot to tell Smith.

The young Queenslander, who’d happily waltz through life anonymously, has been taking slow but constant strides into the Australian sports fan’s conscience since he roared home at the US Open in 2015, most notably winning the Zurich Classic on the US PGA Tour and the Australian PGA Championship on home soil last year.

But what happened next was different.

This was a quantum leap.

Smith strode into the sand and with one magical waft of his trusty sand iron, reinflated that bubble with the most improbable birdie of this World Cup.

Not prone to histrionics, Smith did what came naturally as the ball trickled towards the cup and dropped.

He stood with one arm raised – a smiling, sandy version of the famous Tommie Smith and John Carlos salute of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

And while it will never be that poignant, it could well be a moment that will have long-standing positive ramifications for all who saw it – not to mention the man himself.

Leishman brushed past the crowd on the way to the next tee and just shook his head and smiled in equal parts delight, relief and disbelief.

In those few seconds, Smith did as much as any Aussie golfer arguably since Adam Scott in 2013 to create a hero – someone to whom the Aussie galleries and juniors can aspire.

He played a ripping shot, he engaged the crowd, he smiled and acknowledged the mighty roars as he walked to the next tee and then proceeded to pound out another great drive up the 15th, as if nothing had happened.

That minute might fade, just as Australia’s charge did with the Belgian team of Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry holding firm against the hosts and Mexicans, who ultimately shared second place.

But nobody who saw it will forget it.


And Smith himself, already at just 24 proving himself as a big-moment specialist, admitted afterwards that it was a moment he’d love to repeat down the track.

“That was pretty cool,” Smith said after he and Leishman combined for a superb seven-under-par 65 in typically golf’s most testing format.

“I haven’t heard a roar like that for a very long time. It was awesome.”

Asked if it made him want more, Smith, who will likely have three-quarters of his home Wantima Country Club watching his PGA title defence at Royal Pines this week, was typically matter of fact.

“Absolutely. I want to be back down here next year playing the Presidents Cup and doing the same stuff.”

Leishman, already a legitimately world-class player and himself a fan favourite for his gregarious off-course demeanour, was quick to note afterwards that the pair’s play – as much as their results – would hopefully be enough to forge a unit next year when captain Ernie Els picks his combinations to try to bring down the Americans at nearby Royal Melbourne.

“Great week. I think going forward … it could be a pretty good Presidents Cup pairing for Melbourne next year,” Leishman said.

“Obviously we’d like to have been one better, but you can’t win them all and I think we did ourselves proud.”

Smith, clearly with adrenaline still pumping, went one cheeky step further.

“I would like to think it was firmly in Ernie’s mind before this,” he joked with reporters.

“But yeah, this week definitely couldn’t have hurt. We had to make a run for it. We showed we could do it as a team and hopefully that’s something that Ernie remembers, or, you know, hopefully doesn’t have to remember.

“It was really good.”

Yes, it was, Cam.

Really, really good.