Cameron Smith, the golfer, steps into the limelight

People used to confuse him with his namesake, the rugby league legend, but Cameron Smith the golfer is ever so slowly earning his own reputation in the sporting world.

The other day at the Australian Open, Smith was saying that more people were starting to recognise him, even asking for autographs. “It’s weird, really weird,’’ he said. “But it just comes with it, doesn’t it, really.’’

Smith will partner Marc Leishman in the Australian team at the World Cup of Golf at Metropolitan in the sand belt this week. He is 25 and bordering on super-stardom in golf; ranked No.33 in the world.

Cameron Smith chips out of a bunker.

Cameron Smith chips out of a bunker.Credit:AAP

In the 2017-18, US PGA Tour season he won more than $4 million in prizemoney. The year before, he won his first US Tour event, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with Jonas Blixt, his friend from Sweden. He also won the Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast in 2017 and twice, in 2016 and 2017, he has come close to winning the Australian Open.

He’s a serious player, although only the golf tragics recognised him with his baby face and blond locks. He eschewed media interviews for a long time, although he chatted openly to the Sunday Age this week at The Lakes, acknowledging he had improved in this aspect. “I used to think I was rubbish,’’ he said. “It was self-confidence. I felt like I could say the wrong thing, but I’ve got better.’’

He’s lived in America for four years, having played his way onto the tour with a strong finish in a tournament in Asia, and then a fifth place in the US Open in 2015 when he hit a three wood shot to the shadow of the flag stick on the last. That’s the kind of thing he does, quietly, efficiently, and very well.

He lives at Jacksonville, Florida with his American partner Jordan Ontiveros and practises at TPC Sawgrass near the home of the US PGA Tour, and host venue for The Players Championship each year. Matt Kelly, Leishman’s caddie, lives nearby as does Aron Price, and Blixt. His father Des comes over a few times a year, and sometimes brings some mates keen to play the island green at Sawgrass.

It was Des Smith, a scratch-marker and club champion at Wantima Golf Club in Brisbane, who introduced Cameron to golf. He became a star amateur, winning the Australian amateur championship and smoothly working through the levels until he reached the top. Back then, he was a tiny boy, and he’s still small, 180 centimetres and just 78 kilograms, despite three or four sessions a week in the gym.

“I’m going to say when I got in the Golf Australia squad, I could have been 60 kilograms,’’ he said. “I was skinny.’’

Smith used to be a short hitter, but he’s not now. He’s not pushing Dustin Johnson or the bombers, but he can move it out there. “I’m probably just above par, maybe. It allows me to be more aggressive into the greens,’’ he said.

More to the point, he has the best wedge game seen in an Australian male player since Geoff Ogilvy and possibly even earlier. Smith is a short-game specialist. To him, it is all about getting the ball in the hole, rather than how it looks. “I’ve always been a bit of a wedger because even when I was a little kid, I didn’t hit it that far. Even up until I was 19 or 20, I didn’t hit it far, so I relied on my wedges to get me through.’’

He misses Australia, a lot, in particular the pies. This week, he joked he might have broken some kind of record for pie consumption at a tournament. But he is ensconced in the US, where his work is, with his collection of hot cars (he has six, which he says embarrasses him, including a souped-up Nissan GTR).

“I’m getting more and more comfortable with life over there,’’ he said. "It’s just good fun but it can be stressful sometimes on the golf course. But I guess that’s one of the traits of the job. It’s a stressful game.

“I don’t think there’s a secret. I haven’t changed anything up since I was 13 or 14. I just tried to keep getting better at what I know. I haven’t played around with anything. We’ve taken on board some things that I like and other stuff, we kind of chuck out. There’s trial and error in there. But we try to keep it as simple as possible.’’

His coach, Grant Field, comes to visit him four or five times a year, but Smith is not a technical player. “I let Grant do that stuff,’’ he said. “He’s really good at translating it in a way, he dumbs it down for me which is nice.’’

Encouragingly, he has not made it all about himself. Recently Smith hosted two of Golf Queensland’s elite male players in Jacksonville for some mentoring; it’s something he has committed to do every year along with the Cameron Smith Junior Classic tournament which is played at Wantima. “I enjoy it, and feel the need to do something when you can,’’ he said. “I’m in quite a good position where I can help junior golfers a lot. I like to give a hand where I can without going over the top.’’

When Leishman chose him for the World Cup team (under the rules, the top-ranked player gets to pick his partner in the 28-team competition), he and Smith began chatting about the tournament. Their personalities are similar, and nothing much fazes them. “I’ve always loved playing in a team environment. I grew up playing cricket and footy. I love playing for someone else; not just yourself. ‘Leish’ and I get along really good. We’ve got a lot of things in common, other than he’s got kids and stuff like that. We kind of think the same way about golf. We prefer a chilled-out approach to everything.’’

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