21 Nov 2022 | Professional golf |

Fans flock to see hometown hero

by Australian Golf Media

Cam Smith RQ image
Fans lap up the return of Cameron Smith at Royal Queensland on Sunday.

By Jim Tucker at Royal Queensland

Where does Cameron Smith keep the old Claret Jug? Of course, he keeps it on the back seat of his Holden with a cosy home amongst his golf shoes, footy and cap.

For more than 90 minutes, anyone who ambled by his ClubSport R8 LSA in the car park at Royal Queensland on Sunday did a double take if they noticed a gleaming trophy behind the tinted windows.

“Is that THE Claret Jug,” one asked.

Yes. Yes.

It was a humble if momentary home for the trophy won so superbly at St Andrews in July by a golfer with the same traits.

He has revelled in his first laidback weekend of fun in Brisbane for three years.

Meat pie. Tick. A Claret Jug visit to tiny Wantima Country Club, on Brisbane’s northside, so his oldest golf mates could swig from the trophy. Tick. Proud dad Des, a former Wantima club champion, had it by the handle to share a drink with mates too. Tick.

He’s been craving all those things and they meant the world to Smith.

“I knew I was home as soon as I arrived at Brisbane Airport (last week) and the guy on passport control said ‘Oi, this line’,” Smith said with a smile.

“The air smells different. It’s awesome being home.”

Finding his rhythm again in his home town will give him more chance of winning the Fortinet Australia PGA Championship, from Thursday, than hitting 100 extra practice balls.

If there was any doubt as to who is the headliner for the $2 million tournament on the beautifully conditioned RQ fairways, it was spelt out plainly on Sunday.

It came from the rapturous applause of nearly 600 fans on the practice fairway.

Smith and coach Grant Field didn’t quite have the numbers to break the world record for the “Largest Golf Lesson Ever” for the Guinness Book of World Records but they got a feeling for something just as valuable.

Middle-aged men, fit, teenaged juniors, young girls, women and kids dragged along by parents...all clapped when Smith appeared.

They all cheered again for his generous part as the drill dummy for Field in his mass 30-minute lesson. They roared again when he did a breezy Q-and-A on the mic for the crowd.

None of the kids who queued for an autograph left disappointed.

In that 90-minute meet-and-greet, it was easy to see how Smith’s profile has been transformed by long distance. He might not have set foot in Australia for three years but we all have TVs, read the news bulletins and sports fans have ogled at his rise in that time.

Smith is hungry for more silverware. He already has two Australia PGAs victories (2017 and 2018) from his deeds at RACV Royal Pines on the Gold Coast.

Everyone connects Smith with Wantima but Smith knows Royal Queensland intimately because he played pennants for the club as a member and practised regularly there in his youth.

Smith would love to win the Australian Open on Melbourne’s sandbelt, a tournament also co-sanctioned by the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia and the DP World Tour, to be played next week.

“I’d like to win another PGA at this course where I used to play as a young fella," Smith enthused.

"The Australian Open is the one I’m really chasing. As an Aussie, I put that up near the majors as a tournament you want to win.”

The now-retired Ash Barty admitted part of her essential fire as a tennis player dimmed when she won Wimbledon, her dream.

Field knows the drive within Smith, who rose to world No.2 earlier this year, remains.

“There is still a massive fire to do big things...and, yes, I do think his best is ahead” Field said. Smith relished the chance to share his Open trophy with his oldest golf mates at Wantima on Saturday.

“It was good. We played an ambrose day to remember Jason Young, a mate I grew up with, and did a little trophy night back at the club,” Smith said.

“I had a few beers with the guys I’ve missed. I brought the jug along. Everyone enjoyed their photos and having a sip out of the jug. It was pretty neat for a little club like that on the north side to have that jug in the clubhouse, something those people will never forget.”

Smith is merely adding to the lore of the old Claret Jug. He’s not the first reigning Open champion to play in the Australian PGA.

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke arrived at the 2011 staging at the Hyatt Coolum with a classic story of the power of the jug. He was pulled over for speeding in his Ferrari on the drive between Belfast and his next event, the Irish Open. No Irish policeman was going to write him a ticket. They asked him if he had the Claret Jug and they took photos instead. Smith is finding out that many more people recognise him or his mullet walking down the street.

“Definitely, from last time it’s a little bit different. A few people recognise me going to the shopping centre and stuff like that. It’s something I have to live with now but the reception has been fantastic,” Smith said.

The reception will be off the charts on Thursday when the galleries following Smith will likely be the biggest since Adam Scott played the 2013 Australian PGA at Royal Pines after his coronation as Masters champion earlier the same year.

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