A very tearful Cameron Smith was at first lost for words after the drama of having to endure four extra play-off holes before the young Queenslander and Swede Jonas Blixt secured victory in the Zurich Classic Monday morning local time in New Orleans.
Smith, 23, joined Blixt in securing a two-year Tour exemption and more immediately a start in next week’s Players Championship just a short drive from Jacksonville in Florida where Smith is now based. It had been a drama fuelled final day on Sunday with storms creating havoc and forcing a very long delay before the players returned late in the afternoon to the TPC Louisiana course.
Then, when it seemed Smith and Blixt would seal victory in regulation play, after their all-American opponents in Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown bogeyed the 71st hole, Kisner ensured the first Tour team event since 1981 would go into a play-off when he chipped-in for an eagle “3” and tie Smith and Blixt at 27-under par. However, the fading light meant no chance of continuing with a play-off.
Monday dawned with hardly a cloud in the sky which was in stark contrast to Sunday but the fireworks of a day earlier were missing as the two teams parred the first three extra holes. It was left to Smith to put his third shot into the 18th, on the fourth extra hole, inside the three others and just some three foot from the pin.
The Brisbane-born Smith calmly knocked in the birdie putt and while it was Blixt’s fourth Tour win, the young Aussie was overcome by the occasion and had to be comforted by Blixt. It was not to after the trophy presentation that the enormity of the achievement began to resonate with Smith.
“I’ve been playing well for a while now. The last few months everything needed to come together to get a relaxed week I think with Jonas,” he said.
“I have to say, last night was actually better for me than the night before. Saturday night, I struggled to sleep, tossing and turning, and then last night, I think because we had such a long day, I just kind of went home and knocked out.
Those in his homeland knew of Smith’s capabilities as he had captured the 2011 Australian Amateur Stroke-Play Championship and in 2012 and a year later won the Australian Amateur crown. It was three years later at Chambers Bay when Smith burst onto the world stage finishing fourth in his first appearance behind Jordan Spieth in the 2015 US Open.
Now in his 53rd Tour event Smith has become the newest Australian to win on the PGA Tour and the third this 2016-17 season after fellow Queenslander Rod Pampling won the Shriners Hospital Open and Marc Leishman secured victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I was nervous standing over that final putt but and I tried not to show it to Jonas, but yeah, like we’ve been saying, I felt like, you know, one of us was going to pull it off, you know what I mean, all week,” said Smith. “So, I felt, yeah, very stress free over the ball, and I think that’s really worked for us across this week.
But I’ve worked really hard, especially at the start of this year on my short stuff and inside a hundred feet I thought that it was my strong point in my game, and kind of because it was a strong point in my game, I just kind of let it go a little bit.”
“So, I have really started working hard on that again this year, and to hit a shot like that under the pump, especially when you know you’ve got it, was pretty cool.”
And after winning the first regular Tour team event in 28 years Smith already has his eye on securing a place in a 12-man team event later this year at that is qualifying for the International Presidents Cup team.
“The Presidents Cup was definitely a goal of mine at the start of the year to play,” he said. “There’s always a couple of Australians that play. Yeah, it would be an awesome experience I think to go and play that one, and hopefully I’ve showed enough this week and in weeks to come to get on the team.”
On top of a tee time at TPC Sawgrass next week, Smith also is exempt into the Tournament of Champions at the start of 2018.