By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Cameron Smith underlined his enormous promise with his breakthrough win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans team event and the Australian tyro has the all-round game for major success, according to his long-time coach Grant Field.
The 23-year-old’s triumph in a playoff with Swedish partner Jonas Blixt at TPC Louisiana on Monday put him in esteemed company in his native Australia.
Only Jason Day and Adam Scott have claimed a U.S. Tour event at a younger age among Smith’s compatriots.
Both Day and Scott have gone on to win majors and claim the world number one ranking since their breakthroughs in America and a number of pundits feel Brisbane-born Smith could be cut from the same cloth.
Although reluctant to put too much pressure on his charge, Field, who has worked with Smith since he was 11 years old, feels the high expectations are justified.
“I don’t think he has a real weakness,” the Gold Coast-based coach told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
“There’s nothing in his game that really lets him down.
“Especially, he has an amazing short game which was evident over the last few days as well.
“When things get tough (at the majors) you need to rely on that and it’s a huge skill for him to have.
“It’s also his attitude and belief in his abilities is second to none. All those combined, who knows what that will entail in the future.”
The finish at TPC Louisiana was delayed due to a long thunderstorm, leaving Smith and Blixt to battle the American duo of Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a long, tense playoff on Monday.
On the fourth extra hole, Smith stuck his approach to inside three feet at the par-five 18th and calmly tapped in.
Having kept a check on his emotions during the tense final holes, an overwhelmed Smith was speechless during a TV interview by the green, eventually mumbling: “I can’t even talk, I’m sorry.”
Had he missed the putt, it would have hardly mattered for him, suggested Field, describing a player who never gets too down on himself and tends to leave the game on the course when he steps off it.
Smith is also unlikely to be too fazed by any extra attention as he makes his way through the rest of the season.
“It doesn’t bother him too much. His nature is to go about his business,” said Field.
“He doesn’t go for the limelight. He doesn’t sort of go chasing stardom as such. Anything that comes his way, he will have earned.
“Over time we will see what happens. At the moment we’ve just got to enjoy where he’s at.”
Smith turned professional in 2013 and it wasn’t long before he made a splash, grabbing a top 10 finish in his first U.S. Tour event at the co-sanctioned CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur in 2014.
He raised eyebrows with his finish at the 2015 U.S. Open, smashing a three-wood from the fairway of the par-five 18th at Chamber Bay to within inches of the hole.
The tap-in eagle put him into a tie for fourth and gave him his first taste of the U.S. Masters last year, where he made the cut but struggled on the weekend.
Smith has not qualified for next month’s U.S. Open but Monday’s win secured him a spot in next week’s prestigious Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, a short drive from the Australian’s home base at Jacksonville Beach.
Another big stage looms with his debut British Open at Royal Birkdale in July, which was sealed by a joint runnerup finish behind fellow 23-year-old Jordan Spieth at the Australian Open in November.
Having honed his game on some rustic Queensland golf courses when growing up, Smith should have no major bother with the vagaries of links golf, Field said.
“They’re not the most manicured and perfect golf courses (here)… You’ve got to learn to deal with different situations and create different shots.
“He’s learnt a lot of that in Queensland and playing in the wind (here) will serve him well.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)