17 Jul 2023 | Professional golf |

Confident Cam's bold Open declaration

by Tony Webeck

Cameron Smith holds the Claret Jug after winning the 2022 Open at St Andrews.
Cameron Smith will defend The Open title won at St Andrews this week at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

A determined Cameron Smith insists he is better placed to win the Claret Jug this week at Royal Liverpool than he was 12 months ago when he shocked the world at St Andrews.

Smith’s trophy tour that has seen the Claret Jug on a global jaunt taking in Brisbane, Melbourne, Florida and everywhere in between officially ends on Monday when he returns golf’s most treasured silverware to its custodians at the R&A.

Smith has been familiarising himself with the idiosyncrasies of Hoylake along with coach Grant Field and caddie Sam Pinfold since Saturday, aware that he will be a man in demand in the early part of championship week.

He is hopeful that a prominent parking space will be waiting when he drives his rental car into the gates of Royal Liverpool each day but is unsure of what else will be asked of just the fifth Australian to win The Open Championship.

Peter Thomson is the only Australian to have successfully defended his Open crown (1954-1955-1956) yet Smith is adamant that he is a better golfer now than the one who played the round of his life at the Old Course last July.

“I do feel like I’m a better golfer,” Smith boldly declared.

“Even though I won five times last year, I feel like I had a few days with driver during the tournament where I was really in contention and it let me down and I was grinding to stay at the top of the leaderboard.

“With that driver straightened out I feel like I can make a lot more birdies, which is a good spot to be in.”

Smith’s third Fortinet Australian PGA Championship win last November was his most recent victory until he triumphed at LIV Golf London at Centurion Club two weeks ago.

It represented the continuation of a stellar run of form that has included top-10 finishes at both the US PGA Championship (T9) and US Open (fourth).

Admitting that his reduced schedule and extended break may have contributed to his muted start to the year, the 29-year-old says he is playing the type of golf that makes him a major threat again this week.

“I don’t think I was quite 100 per cent for The Masters which was annoying. The way I have played since then and in the majors has been really good,” he said.

“As I’ve said the last couple of months, the golf was starting to feel really nice. It’s starting to be in a spot where it doesn’t have to be 100 per cent for me to contend, and that’s just a really nice feeling.”

The reduced schedule which followed Smith’s move to LIV Golf has enabled he and coach Grant Field to tailor their preparation towards major championships.

It is a calendar constructed in a similar manner to some of the greats of the game.

“If you look through the history of the best players, they play the least,” Field said.

“The best players don't play 30-40 weeks a year. Go back to Tiger (Woods) and Adam (Scottt) in their prime and they play the bare minimum because it allows them to be fresher.

“Rather than playing 30 events and 20 of them being rubbish, every time they play, they’re in the best position to play to their full potential.”

As part of his preparation, Smith has perused highlights of past Opens at Royal Liverpool, most recently the wins by Tiger Woods in 2006 and Rory McIlroy in 2014.

It is unclear yet whether Hoylake will be firm and fiery as it was when Woods eschewed driver to plot his way to victory or the softer, more forgiving conditions on offer when McIlroy won almost a decade ago.

What is clear, however, is that Smith has a definitive preference.

“I just love playing in those conditions. It’s just so much fun to play links golf when it’s firm and fast and windy,” Smith added.

“You have to hit crazy shots and sometimes really great shots are to 60, 70, 80 feet. It’s cool to play golf like that.”

But first will be the ceremonial returning of the Claret Jug, a task Smith says will be motivation in itself to leave Liverpool with it again in his possession.

“It will definitely be motivation to try and get it back,” Smith said of relinquishing ownership.

“It’s the coolest trophy in the world. It’s unreal to have and hopefully, if not this year, in years to come I can try and get it back down to Australia.

“If I play golf like I have the past couple of months here, I’m sure it won’t be too long again.”

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