Cameron Smith is Australia’s newest major champion and golf’s everyman

For the mug amateur, professional golf is borderline witchcraft. For we – the hacker, the chopper, the handicapped – it is impossible to relate to the cognition that golf’s elite have for their game. It is a dark art to simply play in, much less contend for, the Open Championship, the oldest and greatest major hosted by a royal and ancient society at the ‘home of golf’. To win on the Old Course at St Andrews? Well, this is not normal behaviour at all.

It is among the reasons golf fans love Australia’s latest major champion, Cameron Smith. He reminds us of ourselves; he is an everyman who happens to be unbelievably good at golf.

And thus legions of us sat in front of televisions so very early on Monday morning and watched Smith, leading by one over local favourite Rory McIlroy, half-chunk his approach shot on the famous and difficult 17th hole. It left his ball behind a famous pot bunker that protects a famous green that runs near-perpendicular to the fairway and parallel with a famous road and old stone wall. And we put our feet in his Footjoys and our bellies in his Penguin shirt and we thought: what the hell are we … sorry, is he, going to do now?

Smith’s answer was simple: roll the ball onto the green, then roll the ball into the hole. Easy, right? Wrong. And yet the 28-year-old Queenslander shot 64 – the lowest-ever final round to win an Open Championship at St Andrews – and finished 20-under to claim his first major championship by one shot from the indefatigable American Cameron Young.

Keeping it simple has been a Smith mantra since he began playing as a two-year-old at Wantima Country Club in Brisbane’s north. His dad Des was club captain and Smith was at the course every day. Where other parents might spend money sending their children to the esteemed sandstone institution, the Smiths spent theirs sending the kids to golf tournaments. People would remark to Des that he must be spending a fortune. He didn’t keep count. He didn’t see it that way.

“It was about the kids enjoying their golf,” he said. “And it meant they weren’t hanging around skateboard parks and shopping centres. It was about making nice human beings. To me it was a simple and great decision. Cameron just loved it. And if it cost us money, it cost us money. And if he never made a cent out of golf it wouldn’t have bothered me either way.”

Smith first travelled overseas for golf aged 16 when he represented Golf Australia at something called The Thunderbird Junior Invitational in Arizona. There were multiple offers from US colleges, but Smith wasn’t scholastically inclined. He preferred to hang around with his tradie mates, pulling beers in the RSL and playing golf. He had only ever wanted to be a professional. Why wait four years in college?

And so here he is, Australia’s latest golf sensation. And people want to know: who is this mulleted, moustached major champion? The answer: many things.

He likes XXXX Gold and his F1 simulator. As Tiger Woods sports a Sunday red polo shirt, Smith dons one in the maroon of the Queensland rugby league team. He is mates with caddies as much as his fellow players. He calls everyone “mate” anyway. He is laid-back, unaffected; cool without trying it on. Although he would not think himself cool – his upbringing would not allow it.

Smith once bought his family new cars and wrapped them in big bows. Everyone cried. At the post-Open press conference he was asked how many beers would fit in the Claret Jug. “I’m going to guess two cans of beer,” Smith replied. “I’ll probably have about 20 Claret Jugs [tonight].”

Today he lives a high-profile life in the United States, performing each week on a massive stage. He’s earned $40m in prize money. He lives in a waterside mansion in Florida. Yet Smith’s dad says there’s “no mug” in his boy.

“He’s from a blue-collar family, you don’t get away with [big-headed behaviour], Des said. “You get told to pull your head in pretty quick.”

He has the same mates as he did from school. “I seriously think if you had a beer with us, you’d think that we’re all 12,” Smith laughed. “A couple of them who are into golf are sort of interested, but most couldn’t care less. It’s actually kind of nice. It brings you back to earth.”

To which stratosphere will he go now? If he plays like he did at St Andrews again, wherever he wants. In March, Smith won the Players Championship, considered the “fifth Major” because it hosts the strongest field in golf. Before that he won the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. In April he ran equal-third in The Masters at Augusta.

He is ranked sixth in the world with a bullet. He is both one of us and one of them – a golfer and a wizard. And perhaps, soon enough, the very best there is.