Cameron Smith didn’t hesitate to win the St. Andrews Open

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Cameron Smith had just given up his 36-hole lead at the 150th Open. It was time for his caddie, Sam Pinfold, to give a pep talk and help turn the tide.

When Pinfold had finished, Smith smiled at his good friend and, wasting no time, replied, “Three or four back,…don’t worry.” … We had to give them a head start anyway.

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It was the confidence of the young Aussie who produced a stunning 64 on Sunday to win the Open, becoming the fifth Australian to win the Claret Jug and the first since 1993. His first major triumph adds to victories earlier this year at THE PLAYERS and Sentry Tournament of Champions. He rose to No. 2 in the FedExCup and World Rankings in a year that saw him become the only player other than Jack Nicklaus in 1978 to win THE PLAYERS and The Open in the same year. In his victory over Sentry in January, Smith set the TOUR record for the lowest score over par, shooting 34 under. At St. Andrews he tied that mark for the majors and recorded the lowest score ever shot in an Open at St. Andrews, a 20 under 268. And he closed with a remarkable 30 on the back nine, the lowest ever shot by an open Champion.

But back to Smith’s joke. It was a lighthearted response. But there was some wisdom hidden within. Smith is – with all due respect – like a mongrel dog fighting for the first bone he’s seen in a month. He’s the ultimate underdog, determined to prove the doubters wrong.

As of Sunday, four headbutts were enough of a challenge. The fact that one of the frontrunners was Rory McIlroy, the great British prospect the crowds were eager to crown, was a red rag for a bull.

Smith hails from Queensland – the northeastern state of Australia known for its beautiful beaches, the Great Barrier Reef and a never-ending philosophy of tenacity. That determination stemmed from Smith’s favorite sport other than golf – rugby league – where the Queensland Maroons take on the mighty New South Wales Blues three times a year in an epic and brutal series of matches called State of Origin. It’s tribal.

Queensland are known for winning often against the odds. He has a smaller pool of talent to draw from, but somehow rises above himself when he puts on the jersey. A State of Origin match fell the night before the Open, and Smith insisted on playing his final nine-hole practice round early in the morning so he could stream the match on his phone at St. Andrews.

The Maroons, who were short of three key players due to COVID and injuries, were the underdogs. Then, in a frantic opening minutes into the game, they lost two more to concussion. Despite the obstacles, they won 22-12. Pinfold confirmed that Smith “got a lot out of it.”

“No doubt,” Smith joked of the match in his pre-tournament press conference afterwards. “It’s just another example of the spirit of Queensland. I will definitely think about it this week. »

The underdog emerged on Sunday at the Old Course. Smith penned a maroon shirt ahead of his attempt to hunt the home favorite.

After a solid 34 on the front nine, Smith looked up to see he had recovered just one shot on McIlroy. The time had come to shut up or shut up.

“You have to try to win. That’s what we’re all here to do. I really needed to shake things up,” said Smith, whose gallery included former tennis star Ash Barty and two-time Moto GP champion Casey Stoner.

And so Smith went to work. He nearly drove the par-4 10th to make the first of five straight birdies that put him ahead of McIlroy. The best came on the 13th – a hole that had nearly ended his chances a day earlier.

“These guys are great players. They weren’t going to give it to me. I had to take it,” Smith added. “It was a good thing I was behind. My mindset would have been a little different coming in, especially on that back nine, if I was up front.

“My second shot in 13 was really when I thought we could win this thing.”

Pinfold was also criticized for the double bogey on Saturday the 13th. Many have suggested he should have called Smith on a risky shot where he tried to hit his ball while standing in a bunker with the ball overhead. above his feet. This shot sailed into a gorse bush, resulting in a double bogey.

“You don’t mess with a player who is confident with his skill level,” Pinfold explained. “I’m so proud of him. His game plan was brilliant; he was just very confident and he has so much confidence that it makes my job easy.

“I don’t have to think of a second option, it’s just what’s the best shot, what’s the best option, then aim, shoot and go. He just has the balls and the guts to get up and do it.

Another such moment came on Sunday at the infamous Road Hole, which ranks as the toughest on the TOUR whenever the Open takes place in St. Andrews. Smith’s approach fell short and the famous bunker on the green side of the hole stood between his ball and his target. Smith calmly landed his ball on the slope against the edge of the trap, then buried the putt by 10 feet.

When he calmly birdied the last to score 20 under, one shot better than playing partner Cameron Young, only a McIlroy eagle could beat him. But the four-time major winner failed to participate just before the green and victory was assured.

“I feel like I can’t breathe,” he said. “These last four or five holes are not easy around here, especially with the wind on the left. I’m just really proud of how I managed to fight today and do it.

“Winning an Open Championship in itself will probably be a golfer’s highlight in their career. To do that around St. Andrews, I think, is just amazing. This place is so cool.

Birdie on the first five holes of the back nine paralleled how he won THE PLAYERS earlier this year. He birdied the first four holes of TPC Sawgrass’ back nine en route to the victory.

“He loves to fight,” Pinfold said. “Put him in a fight, three or four backs, and he’ll step up his game and go for it.”

Another celebration, like the one that followed his PLAYERS victory, is expected.

“I’m definitely going to find out how many beers fit in this thing,” he said of the Claret Jug. “I’ll guess two, two cans of beer. …I’ll probably have about 20 Claret jugs.

He certainly deserved it.

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