Date: May 03, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes

There’s no ceiling on Cam

Expert opinions on a blueprint of a champion golfer would struggle to pinpoint one perfect physique.

But if you could choose one intangible trait you’d hand a youngster, a capacity to excel at crunch times would surely figure in discussions.

So for those Australian viewers who were newcomers to Cameron Smith, his triumph in the wee hours of Tuesday morning at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans must have been doubly encouraging.

Sure, Smith’s first professional victory secured a card for the next two US PGA Tour seasons that will enable him to plot a more measured path through the early years on tour.

But more, it came in a manner that hints at even greater things to come for a 23-year-old of whom many in the know have held high hopes for years.

The highlight reel will, naturally, feature Smith’s kick-in birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole after the brilliant approach that finally gave him and Jonas Blixt victory in the first fully-fledged team event on the US PGA Tour since 1981.

AUDIO: Cameron Smith joined Melbourne radio station RSN on Tuesday morning just hours after his win in the Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana – Listen

What it won’t show is that, when the pair was headed by rampant American pair Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown early in the fourth round, it was Smith who turned the tide.

For all established Swedish star Blixt’s invaluable contributions throughout a memorable week in which the pair didn’t suffer a bogey, it was doubtless Smith who rose to the challenge when it was thrust upon them.

The Queenslander, whose game was honed on the fairways of suburban Wantima Country Club and is also a member Royal Queensland, fired five back-nine birdies of his own just to make the playoff. Then, despite a couple of putts he’d probably like back, Smith was the clear attacking standout in a playoff featuring more nerves than a debutant ball.

None of which comes as a surprise to the man who knows Smith’s game better than anyone – his childhood and ongoing coach, Grant Field.

“He has an innate ability to step up in the big moments,” Field said of his charge who first sealed a US PGA Tour card when he nearly holed out for albatross on no less a stage than the 72nd hole of the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, where he finished tied fourth at outrageously long odds.

“The tougher it gets for Cam, the better he gets – he showed it in the Australian Open last year (when he lost in a playoff to dual major champion Jordan Spieth at Royal Sydney).

“From memory he was six down (against Geoff Drakeford in the final) and won about eight straight holes to win the Australian Amateur (in 2013 at Commonwealth).

“He’s got that ability to flick a switch. He can go up a gear. Every time he’s gone to that next level, he’s played well.

“And he’s proven it again this week … only this time the world is watching, which probably makes it even more pronounced, I suppose.”

Smith had been knocking around balls by around his fourth birthday as he watched his father, Des, himself a scratch marker at Wantima in Brisbane’s north.

Before Cam’s 11th birthday, Des approached Field to take him in a more formal way than the Golf Queensland camps he’d taken to so well.

“From there … it’s just been what seems like a natural progression,” Field said.

“It was when he was about 14 or 15 that I thought he was more special than just a good player, but you just never really know what path they’ll take at that age.”

Smith enjoyed success at almost every level at which he played. His game has evolved greatly, but the rate of progression has been a constant source of amazement to Field, right up until Tuesday morning.

“Like a lot of things with Cam, I knew it would happen, but again, it has happened so quickly for him.

“It’s incredible when you stop to think about it … he did really well in Asia in 2014, took his shot to get a few starts on the US Tour, then he (shone) at the US Open to get his card and now this.

“It’s amazing; it truly is.”

So where will the young man who turned up a full day late to his 2013 Web.Com Tour Q-school tee time find his ceiling?

“It’s entirely up to him,” Field said with gravity after a moment’s pause.

“We had a conversation last year about how good he wants to be.

“Everyone jokes about that missed (Q-school tee) time, but one thing it maybe did was it allowed us to reset goals to where he probably should have been.

“It probably slowed him down for the first time, his first setback, I suppose – and in hindsight it probably really focused him and proved a real positive.

“Although I wouldn’t have said that to him at the time,” Field joked.

“But he’s earnt every bit of what he’s done – he got his card in Asia and in just nine starts made his way to US Tour.

“If he wants to put in the work and keep pushing as he has, he can be a top-10 player.

“He has the tools to be a great player.”

For a man who’s seen a lot in golf and isn’t prone to outlandish statements, that’s a big call.

But if you doubt it, take a look into Smith’s eye when next he has his mind set on something.

There’s something very special in there and, if form holds, we might get a really good look at it on a major stage in the next few years.