A customer last July at the Dunvegan Hotel, who imagines himself only 9-iron away from the old course, will probably remember Cameron Smith’s British Open most of all.
It wouldn’t take much, because Smith recently recalled this roughly about Sunday that left him a major championship champ: His out, missing a putt on the ninth hole, learning he grabbed the lead, and then ending up “feeling not really joy, but relief.”
He considers this, a memory unencumbered by wit or blunder, as strength.
“That’s one of my greatest possessions: hit a golf shot and forget it,” Smith said in an interview. He has friends, as every professional golfer does, who can “remember every shot from every tournament they’ve played.”
He continued, “But it’s something, I’ve never been able to do.”
He’s the one who spent the last year filling the Open’s winning claret jug with beer – and concluded it tasted better than Australia’s – and concluded.
Now comes his first major title defense, which will begin on Thursday at Royal Liverpool, the English court that is the site of the 151st Open Championship.
Smith’s overall assessment so far is an exercise in choosing your own adventure analysis. The Masters, where he finished in the top 10 for three consecutive years, yielded a disappointment in April, when he tied for 34th in the only major tournament in which he never fails to take a weekend.
But Smith’s May outing at Oak Hill was his best PGA Championship performance of his career (tied for ninth), and after missing three cuts at the US Open in five years, he left Los Angeles with a fourth-place finish. Less than two weeks ago, he won the LIV golf tournament near London, his second solo win since joining the Saudi-backed circuit last summer. Perhaps this event was an extraordinary preparation for the mockery and horrors of Royal Liverpool, even for a former Open Championship champion.
“The winds are very different, I feel, in England and Scotland,” Mark Leishman, one of Smith’s LIV teammates, noted this month. “It’s a lot heavier. It’s very important to get used to it, the ball is separated. Cam was very good at the time, throwing his wedges and putting on top of that, and he’s a pretty formidable opponent.”
Smith’s slump – a relative term – at the start of the year likely stemmed from the furlough break which was the longest of the 29-year-old’s career. He had won the Australian PGA Championship, missed out on the Australian Open, and was in desperate need of a restart after years of pandemic disruption and his thrust into the global spotlight. Until now, he says, he is a professional athlete who “would rather not have known me.” If he had his way, he’d probably be out hunting.
and though this gap was a good and lively salve to his mind, it was, at least for this period, a divination in golf. Once he returned to competition, the shortcomings in his preparation were evident. He had intermediate finishes in two of the first three LIV events of the year, and missed the cut at a tournament in Saudi Arabia.
He would still have preferred to practice leaving the mirror in his Florida office (there, instead of green, “Because I’m lazy”) but he accepted, reluctantly, that his chauffeur needed more work. By the time he arrived in Los Angeles for the US Open in June, he was eagerly adopting the old-school approach: Don’t worry too much about distance, try to land the ball in the fairway, and get a shot at the birdie.
he He finished 50th in the driving distance but he had 19 birds, Tied for the second time on the field The equal winner is Windham Clark. At Augusta, he was 31st in driving distance and tied for 37th in birdies, with 13.
“I feel like I worked on it really hard, golf was really good, and then it was just a case of letting things happen,” he said of his resurgence. “And sure enough, the last couple of majors are starting to feel really good.”
But Smith’s effortless juggling, so obvious to anyone who gets online and spends a minute watching him conquer the Road Hole the Sunday he won the Claret Jug, flows in large part from his poise. He believes he derives it from his mother, perhaps not surprising for a player whose early years on the PGA Tour were marked by homesickness.
The epidemic did not help. When he won the Tour Players Championship in March 2022, his mother and sister were at TPC Sawgrass, having reunited with Smith after more than two years of border restrictions. Six months later, it was ranked number two in the world and was one of LIV’s most exciting deals.
But he has so far managed to avoid being seen as a villain, even before the surprise announcement last month of a possible détente between the warring circles. He just spent so much time airing grievances in public. He has acknowledged the shortcomings of the LIV fields compared to the PGA Tour. When his world ranking plummeted, which was inevitable since LIV Championships weren’t sanctioned, he didn’t lash out because his shot to get to number one was fading.
“I made my bed, and I’m happy sleeping in it,” he said in an interview in March. Now, with a tentative peace possibly taking hold in professional golf, he’s wondering if he’ll ever get a chance, after all.
He said, “Don’t get me wrong: I want to hit everybody.” “But there’s no reason why you can’t do it with a smile on your face.”
He will face another 155 men this week, all claiming to deny him another year as a claret pitcher. Now ranked seventh in the world, and bracing for a field of more than a dozen other Open Championship winners, he has a backup plan for his drinks.
“The Aussie PGA Cup is pretty cool,” he said. “You can definitely fit a lot of beer in that.”
However, he said this week, his eyes welled up with tears when he returned the Clarets pitcher to the Open Championship organizers.
“I wasn’t, like, not letting her go,” he said at a news conference Monday. “But it was just a moment that I think you’re not thinking about, and then all of a sudden you’re there and, yeah, you want it back.”