Date: June 18, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes @ US Open

Smith: Just let me at it

Cameron Smith had not long turned seven when his US Open memory kicked in.

That image of Tiger Woods streeting the field by a record 15 shots and taming famous Pebble Beach is clear in the young Queenslander’s mind.

Just 15 years later as he prepares for his first major championship, you could excuse Smith for being overawed as he joins that throng.

But in doing that, you’d be making a clear mistake.

For one, at No.167, he’s already 28 places higher than Woods on the world rankings – and that’s despite not having formal status on the US PGA Tour.

The Golf Australia rookie squad member, whose father Des will be in the gallery, admits his heart might skip a beat when he pegs it up on Thursday.

But for all intents and purposes, he already feels like he belongs – not a bad mindset for someone who’s played just nine PGA Tour events.

“I have watched it a lot on telly, obviously, being a major so it hasn’t been too overwhelming, but maybe just a little bit,” Smith said.

“I’ve played enough now that I am starting to feel fairly comfortable around all the guys, so I’ve got to just play now, let it take care of itself.”

It’s a refreshing mindset for the lithe Wantima Country Club product in suburban northern Brisbane.

Even better, at 22, Smith remains the same focused, yet knockabout young lad whose stellar amateur career ended with an Australian Amateur title in 2013 following the Australian Strokeplay in 2011 and 2012 and Australian Junior title in 2011.

Smith’s elevation to this point has been rapid and reached via an uncommon path, not least of which was his qualification with four birdies in six closing holes to qualify in Columbus last week.

He rocketed to become the Asian Tour’s 2014 rookie of the year after six consecutive top-10 finishes — among seven overall.

That form, including a T2 at the Indonesian Masters earned him the start that has become crucial in reaching this point.

A berth in the co-sanctioned CIMB Classic in Malaysia in November, when he cashed in with a T5 finish that catapulted him into a series of American starts which he’s now all but exhausted barring successful Monday qualifiers.

But while his haul of $US407,530 and 207 FedEx Cup points in his nine starts is yet to earn anything more than a guarantee of Web.Com Tour finals, this week potentially presents an even bigger opportunity than “just” a major championship.

Smith could become a special temporary member of the PGA Tour should he earn 116 or more FedEx Cup points, or roughly a top-five finish.

It would enable him to accept further sponsors’ invites this season and put him in prime position to win a full card for 2015-16.

To get those privileges he need only match the 125th ranked player on tour this year in points or money, all but a lock given he’d already have more money than last year’s cut-off.

But, as you’d hope and expect, Smith is barely acknowleding any of that.

Thursday, or maybe Sunday, is as far as vision extends.

“My goal (is to) get out there and `have at it’ and see what I can do.

“They are all opportunities and you can’t really say no to an opportunity (but) I just prepare my best for every tournament and then when I am home work hard.

“It is a bit annoying (not to have the schedule a card would afford), but what can you do? This is a good week to do something about it, for sure.
“But I really can’t wait for Thursday. This is my first major and I am really excited.”

And with many predicting an over-par winning score, Smith’s bold personal expectation could have him right in the mix.

“I am playing good. I am hitting the ball solid. I think the key this week is just keeping out of the cabbage and just doing your work around the greens,” he says with the aplomb of a veteran.

“There are going to be some (strange) bounces, but you just have to take it on the chin and move on as there is not much you can do about it.

“I’ll try to shoot somewhere around even because that should be up there at the end of the week.”

Do you have even in you?

“Absolutely. Why not?”