Date: September 28, 2015
Author: Tom Fee in Hong Kong

All or nothing for Smyth in Hong Kong

There’s an important difference between a prize and a prize-pool.

It's a distinction not lost on Shellharbour golfer Travis Smyth, one of six Australians teeing up this week at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Hong Kong.

With a support crew based almost two hours’ drive away in Sydney, Smyth has been hard at work consulting with the Golf NSW high performance team to ensure he has the best possible preparation.

On offer to the winner at the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club is golf’s golden ticket – a spot at the 2016 US Masters. The runner-up may be disappointed to miss out on an appearance at Augusta, but he won’t go home empty handed with a start in The Open Qualifying series.

Outside the top two, the field will be jostling for rankings points, a mere consolation in comparison to the main prize.

Smyth is ranked behind all of the other Australians at number 95 in the world, but it will be hard to find anyone that is happier with their game right now.

“I think this is the best I’ve felt in the lead-up to a tournament,” Smyth said before he left for Hong Kong.

“I’ve put a lot of time in and I’m taking it pretty seriously, I don’t know about the other [Australian] boys, it’s definitely a big part of my schedule.

"I’ve seen my coach at least once a week for the last couple (of) months, just to work on shot-shaping and getting everything down pat. I’ve got a short game coach as well, so I’ve been seeing him once a week and training with Golf NSW coach Dean Kinney, the strength and conditioning coach and the physios.

"Everyone’s been awesome, so I’m feeling good. If you win this, it’s such a big deal, so I’ve practised really hard.”

It’s clear that the lure of a start in Augusta has drawn in more than just Smyth out of the Australian contingent. Defending champion Anthony Murdaca and WA’s Jarryd Felton  have both retained their amateur status just to have the opportunity to compete this week.

If they win, they’ll need to remain amateur for at least another seven months to be eligible for their Masters exemption.

Such is the lure of a US Masters invite, the rarest in golf with a restricted field that reserves a large portion of its starts to an elite crop of past champions.

One golfer Smyth will need to keep an eye on is Korean amateur Gunn Yang, who pipped the NSW golfer to low amateur honours at the NSW Open.

“I had two top-10 finishes at the NSW professional events late last year and that gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that if I play decent I’m going to be somewhere up there," Smyth said.

"I think I was two shots behind Yang who finished T4. At the time he was the US Amateur champion and he was in great form. It’s good knowing that I played decent golf and I was just behind him.”

But to Smyth, the biggest threats come from a lot closer to home.

“It’s the same way with the other boys going over, I feel like if I can’t win it then it will be someone else from Australia.

"That’s good for me, as I know I’ve beaten everyone – at least in certain tournaments – so I’m confident that if I can play at my best I can win.”

One of those wins came at the 2015 Riversdale Cup, where Smyth defeated fellow Asia-Pacidic competitor Lucas Herbert in a playoff.

“I feel if I get in that position again, I can put my mind to focus and win.

"I’ve lost a couple playoffs as well, and it’s all a part of learning. Once you’re in them, if you lose you learn from it and if you win you get confidence off it.”

Despite the Masters invite creating an almost all-or-nothing scenario for the field this week, Smyth expects to enjoy the week with his Australian mates.

“We’re all friends and we’re all excited to go, have a good time and have a good trip away. It’s always exciting to go to another country.”

But the dynamic will be interesting if it comes down to seeing two friends in a battle for a prize that can’t be split. As a runaway seven-shot winner in 2014, Murdaca didn’t allow anyone to get close enough put this mateship to the test.

Smyth said, if the situation comes, he’s more than happy to support his countrymen, providing of course he isn’t in contention at the time.

“We’ve all prepared the best we can, and when we’re there we’re all going to be preparing as a team. It’s not going to awkward or anything like that. If some of us don’t play as well, and the other boys are up there, then we’re all going to be cheering them on.”