In the modern sporting world where athletes are media managed to the extent that they can talk endlessly without saying anything interesting or remotely controversial, it is a breath of fresh air when engaging, articulate and honest players take the opportunity to speak their mind.
As the vast majority of professional players pleaded the fifth when questioned about the Patrick Reed fiasco last month, Cameron Smith had other ideas. Of Reed’s peers, the 26-year-old Australian was the strongest voice in criticising the former Masters champion’s shady bunker tactics, going as far as using the word “cheater” and suggesting that it wasn’t Reed’s first transgression.
Of course, this is old news by now, but whatever your views on Reed’s guilt, Smith’s willingness to take a stand was admirable and surely earned the two-time Australian PGA Champion some new supporters.
The grit and determination he showed when overturning a three-hole deficit to Justin Thomas in the singles at the President’s Cup earned him more fans, with Thomas earning three-and-a-half of a possible four points until then. Smith’s victory wasn’t enough to hold off the American charge, but he more than played his part and was the only International to get a full point from the last six matches. Quite clearly, there was a lot more to the slender Aussie than the oversized cap.
Like the other Australians in the Sony Open field, Smith was donating funds for every birdie and eagle to the Australian bush fire relief fund. Unless you’re a native, it’s hard to fathom exactly how it must feel to watch your homeland ravaged by rampant wildfire. And to see your family uprooted as well. Smith’s uncle is one of those whose home and livelihood have been engulfed by the flames, shortly after he was evacuated to Brisbane which is relatively unharmed, as yet.
But the uncle might be one of the lucky ones. So far, the inferno has claimed 26 human lives, has destroyed more than 2,000 homes, has reduced almost 20 million acres of land to charred remains, and has threatened the ecosystem of an entire continent.
In the wake of such tragedy, it must be difficult to maintain your focus on the golf course. And after opening bogey, triple-bogey on Thursday, it would’ve been very easy for Smith to mentally check out. But much like the early stages of the match against Thomas, he kept grinding and slowly clawed his way back into the tournament.
Battling high winds in the early rounds, heavy squalls blowing through the Hawaiian Islands over the weekend meant that the Sony Open was a true test for golf’s bulldogs. Players like Graeme McDowell, Kevin Kisner and Webb Simpson thrive in these environments, and it was no surprise to see them on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday.
We can now safely add Cameron Smith’s name to the list. He’s got true grit, he’s got his first solo PGA Tour victory, and he gave the Aussies something to cheer about.
Oh, and Patrick Reed missed the cut. How’s that for karma?