The performance was historic — yet still not enough to win. As Dustin Johnson cruised to a green jacket last November, Cameron Smith played himself into the Masters record books. After rounds of 67, 68, 69, 69, the 27-year-old Australian became the first player in Masters history to record all four tournament rounds in the 60s. A week of play, unlike any other at Augusta National, yet still not enough to win. In fact, Smith’s score of 15 under would have won all but five of the previous 84 Masters Tournaments, but of course 2020 was unlike any other year, and DJ’s all-time record of 20-under par stole the show.
This week, Smith returns to Augusta National, a place he says suits his eye, trying to build off his impressive play in November. Ryan Asselta recently caught up with the laid-back Aussie, who talked about being satisfied with his play a year ago despite coming up short, the keys to Masters success in 2021 and his willingness to trade his beloved mullet for a Masters green jacket.
Ryan Asselta: You’re just five months removed from the 2020 Masters, where you became the first player in the tournament’s history to record four rounds in the 60s. What was it that clicked so well for you that week in November?
Cameron Smith: I really drove the ball well that week and that is an area of my game that I typically struggle with. If I can get it in the fairway I’ve generally got a good look at birdie. Obviously, my short game last year was big. I felt like I was kind of getting it up and down from everywhere and maybe stealing a shot or two per round. I’m sure the golf course will be a little bit trickier this year, firm and faster than what we saw in November, but nonetheless I’m excited to get back.
Your performance was historic yet you still finished runner-up. Did you leave Augusta frustrated that you ran into DJ’s epic performance or were you satisfied with the way you played?
I was very happy with my game that whole week. I’d been playing good golf heading into it and I had a good shot at it. Augusta National really suits my eye and I was excited to be there. Obviously I was a little bit bummed out that I didn’t come away with a win, but DJ just played too good.
You were the co-leader after 36 holes and contended all weekend. What did you learn about yourself and your game that week?
I was just really calm on the weekend. I wasn’t angst or getting to the golf course too early. I was excited to be there but was able to calmly go through the motions. I was trying to put pressure on DJ on that last day and trying to make a move on Sunday, so that was a little bit different, but I really felt calm the whole weekend. I felt like I was really in my element.
What do you credit that calmness to?
The golf I’d been playing leading up to November was a big help. I just felt so confident leading into the tournament, which let me be smart yet aggressive, which is key around there. I love the shots that Augusta demands of you and I think if you can shoot your way out of a few scenarios you’ve got a good shot. Confidence was definitely key.
This will mark your fifth career Masters. Have you had that pinch yourself moment over the years at Augusta?
Yeah, it was pretty crazy those first couple of years. You’ve seen so many shots on TV. The first year was me just correcting myself on every single shot, because I’ve seen so many mistakes. Once I kind of got over that, just the aura of the place hits you. The sounds that it makes when someone holes a big putt are like nothing else. It’s pretty crazy.
Will you make any changes heading into this year’s Masters?
Equipment-wise I’ve dabbled with a few wedges every week depending on conditions. Typically I’ll change out a lob wedge to a different bounce or sole. The only thing I might switch out at Augusta is my 3-iron and 7-wood. I’ll put my 7-wood in if it will be firm and fast when I have to hit those high shots into the par-5s. If I feel as though I’m going to use my 3-iron off the tee a lot then I’ll swap that back in.
What type of shot do you have to execute multiple times at the Masters in order to be successful this week?
The driver is key for me. If I can get myself in the fairway and give myself a lot of chances then it’s going to help. I feel like when I’ve had success at Augusta I just hit my driver really consistent and found a lot of fairways. I feel like the rest of my game is pretty good from there, so finding the fairway will be the biggest key.
Your fellow Aussie Marc Leishman grew his own putting green in his backyard and likes to cut it nice and tight to get ready for Augusta National’s greens. You dabbled with growing your own green as well. Do you have any advice for those of us who want to give it a try?
Yeah, don’t do it! [Laughs] It’s so annoying. I did love the challenge but I think being away so much I really couldn’t be home to look after it. It takes a lot of mowing and a lot of maintenance. I just wasn’t able to do it. If you love doing that stuff give it a crack. It’s fun but it’s hard work for sure. I know Leishman loves it. During the summer growing season we used to send each other photos after mowing it. It was good fun for Leish and I.
Big question: You’ve been sporting a mullet the last few months. Will you keep it for the Masters?
[Laughs] Yeah I’ve still got it. My girlfriend absolutely hates it, but I love it. It’s something different. There are a lot of rugby league boys back home in Australia doing the mullet so that kind of started it for me. I figured I’d give it a crack and the look has really grown on me. I did tell my girlfriend Jordan that I’d cut it off after my next win, so she’s eagerly waiting for that to happen. So if I win the Masters and get the green jacket the mullet is coming off. I’ll do that for her. That’s how much I love her.