“I can breathe now,” said the Champion Golfer of the Year indicating just how emotionally fraught the back nine of the Open Championship’s final round play had been for him. Speaking at the post-event presser of the Open Championship last week Cameron Smith’s demeanour—his unfurrowed brow, measured tones, and complete self-control—mirrored the laidback fashion in which the Australian golfer had gone about sealing his emphatic triumph at the Open Championship. In fact, if there could have been a manifestation of last week’s weather conditions at St. Andrews in a man, then Smith’s calm, composed, and sunny disposition perfectly mirrored the benign course that greeted the best golfers in the world during the 150th Open Championship.
Smith was almost clinical in his take down of the hallowed home of golf. Armed with a magical flat stick, he rolled the ball on St. Andrews greens with a conviction that literally blew the competition away. Starting the day four strokes back, Smith drilled in five birdies on as many holes on a day when mother nature bore indifferent witness to the going-ons at the hallowed links. His clutch putting was unreal, even when Cameron Young drilled in a 15-footer for eagle on the final hole to briefly take the lead. Smith made his putt and won by a stroke over Young, and by two strokes over the emotional favourite, and third round leader Rory McIlroy.
Are there any positives, I wondered, watching McIlroy ponder over that question when asked by the press post his unsuccessful run. It was hard to watch: you could see just how disappointed the Ulsterman was, not to have won the biggest championship in the world, and it’s 150th edition to boot. There’s no question that McIlroy has been playing some of his best golf in recent years. Case in point—his final day’s play was anything but weak. You can’t fault a man who hits all 18 greens in regulation and shoots under-par during the final round of the biggest championship in the game.
Fans have finally begun to believe that McIlroy is on the verge of winning a string of Major Championships. And that has little to do with his fine form. What did impress on this occasion is that the Ulsterman did not choke when leading a Major Championship. He hit some great putts which didn’t go in, and that’s all that made the difference in the end. McIlroy was undone by the grit of a man who was hungrier than him. And as Smith himself pointed out after the win, chasing the lead, rather than protecting it, freed him up to play an aggressive, no holds-barred game, that eventually paid dividends. Smith’s eight-under 64 was the lowest final round score ever recorded in the 30 times the Open Championship has been played at St. Andrews.
It certainly felt like a special Open. St. Andrews, that grey sleepy Scottish town came back to life in a way that only happens when the Open Championship comes around. But this was bigger than that—the 150th edition warranted special invites and some of the game’s legends duly accepted. Jack Nicklaus came back to St. Andrews after his emotional farewell in 2005. The Golden Bear was candid enough to admit that he did so only to receive an honorary citizenship of St. Andrews that was bestowed upon him—an honour only two other American golfers have been accorded. Conspicuous by his absence was Nicklaus’ cohort, Greg Norman. The Hall-of-Famer, who’s heading up the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour, was unceremoniously asked by the Royal & Ancient not to attend. The reasons for the move were purportedly to not take away focus from the Open Championship, given the ongoing tussle between the PGA Tour and Norman’s breakaway Tour. Considering that just a few weeks before the Open, the R&A had released a statement about the inclusiveness of the Open Championship to justify its decision to allow LIV Golf members eligible to participate, Norman’s forced exclusion seemed nothing short of petty and short-sighted. As an Open Champion, and one of the greatest players of the game, the Australian had every right to attend. Arguably, the move was counterproductive at best—Norman’s absence ended up creating precisely the sort of bad press, the R& A was keen to avoid.
At a moment in the post-championship presser, a journalist asked Smith about rumours that he would be signing up for the LIV Golf league. “I’ve just won the British Open, and you’re asking me about that? I don’t think that’s…” Smith responded evenly, before deflecting by saying that his team makes decisions about his career.
That, folks, is not a denial. While Smith won $2.4 million with this triumph, Brendan Grace, the golfer who won an unnamed Liv Golf event in Portland recently took home over $3 million. If it’s going to be purely a business decision then there’s no room for debate here. And, as it looks likely now, if LIV Golf players can continue to participate in the Major Championships, then, at least for the top echelon of pro golfers, there’s no real incentive for sticking with the USPGA Tour. A peacemaking deal is very much on the cards and that must be playing on the minds of players who’re turning down lucrative offers from LIV Golf. We’ll wait and watch.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game