When Cameron Smith started his 2022 campaign in Hawaii in January, he was ranked 22nd in the world and hadn’t won a tournament for two years.
A winless 2021, a year in which he stood on the 18th tee first in Memphis and then Boston in back-to-back events late in the year with a chance to win, only for errant drives to cost him twice, lit a fire in the Queenslander to get fitter, work harder and win more.
Seven months and 13 tournaments later, Smith has won three times, snaring two of the most coveted titles in golf, and added $14.5m to a bank account that now has career earnings close to $40m.
He’ll also wake up on Monday in Scotland as the world No.2, the highest ranking for any Australian since Jason Day assumed the No.1 spot way back in 2016.
Smith’s place among the world golf elite has come on the back of wins over the best too.
In January it was the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, his first win in two years, where the Queenslander set a new scoring record.
Then in March he beat the best of the best to take out The Players Championship, as coveted a title as there is in golf, certainly among the players.
Even Smith referred to it as “the fifth major” after beating every member of the world top 10 in his one-shot win that he said was evidence he could go on to win one of the “big ones”.
“It’s basically our fifth major, everyone treats it like that. Guys are there to win, so there’s no reason why I can’t go on and win one of those big ones,” he said.
The big one came at St Andrews where all of the world’s top 50 lined up and Smith benched the bad memories of another near-miss at Augusta in April when the water at the 12th hole sucked in his ball and his chances of winning the Masters.
He’d done the hard work, made the necessary changes and sacrifices, dropped the necessary kilos and gained the confidence and belief to climb the most important mountain.
“I’ve definitely been on that track a few times in my career, but I think it’s just honestly belief,” Smith said, with the Claret Jug his and his place in golf history assured.
“(Winning) The Players at the start of the year, with the best field in golf, to go away with the win was a really big confidence booster. I knew it wasn’t going to be too long before I got one of these.
“I’ve knocked on the door, I think, maybe one too many times now, so it’s nice to get it done.”
Smith identified the shift in mentality he needed to take his world class game to the next level, and it was as much mental as physical, making a realisation that what he had been doing wasn’t quite enough.
He had confessed to being “lazy” in practice, but all that changed and the rewards are both evident and now his to enjoy.
“I felt like, towards the end of last year, I had a lot of chances and really didn’t get over the line,” he said.
“I think that made me more eager, I guess, at the start of the year to really knuckle down and try and get over the line.
“For it to happen three times this year is pretty unreal. I really wasn’t expecting that. I would have been happy with one. So, yeah, just lots of hard work and keeping at it.”
CAMERON SMITH IN 2022
Wins: 3 (Sentry Tournament of Champions, The Players Championship, British Open)
Other top-5 finishes: 2
World ranking: 2