Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman have point to prove at Zurich
April 20, 2021
By Ben Everill , PGATOUR.COM
Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman discuss the keys to success at Zurich Classic
Cameron Smith was annoyed. Marc Leishman was in disbelief.
The duo had just been told that International Captain Ernie Els did not see them as a likely pair for the 2019 Presidents Cup in their native Australia.
“Is he serious?,” they thought. A year earlier, they’d finished runner-up in the World Cup at Metropolitan Golf Club just down the road. They are great mates. Their caddies are also super tight. It appeared to be the most natural pairing on the team. It’s got to be a joke right?
No joke. Els leaned heavily on data during his captaincy, and the numbers did not point to Leishman-Smith pairing. The Australians quickly shook off their initial frustration and bought into Els’ analytical ethos. They played their role, and the proof was in the pudding for Els. His side won three of four team sessions and took a 10-8 lead to Singles before being overrun on Sunday.
Smith, and his short-game wizardry, went 0-1-1 alongside the steady Sungjae Im. Leishman had a win and tie with Abraham Ancer but lost matches partnered with Joaquin Niemann and Haotong Li.
After leaving Royal Melbourne, Leishman and Smith made a pact to prove they can form a formidable team, no matter what the numbers say. An opportunity to prove themselves has arrived at this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. With the 2022 Presidents Cup already on their mind, Smith and Leishman want to play so well that Trevor Immelman has to pair them next year at Quail Hollow.
“We have a little bit of a point to prove regarding a potential Presidents Cup pairing. There’s no doubt,” Leishman said. “We combine pretty well. He’s a great driver of the ball and a great wedge player and I feel like I’m a pretty good iron player. We are both in decent form so we’re looking forward to the week for sure.”
Smith, who won the 2017 Zurich Classic with Jonas Blixt, said the plan was in place in 2020 before the pandemic forced the tournaments cancellation. It’s been a long wait.
“Leish and I understand each other’s game really well. We are quietly confident,” Smith said. “There is a proven benefit to Ernie’s methods, but by the same token good rhythm as a partnership is something to be spoken for. It would be nice to show Trevor he has options.”
International Captain Trevor Immelman will keep and eye on the pair this week. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Immelman, the International Captain, says he will be keeping a keen eye on the team, as well as other potential pairings of countrymen. South Korea’s Im and Byeong Hun An also are playing together this week, as is the formidable South African duo of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. Immelman intends to use both subjective and objective criteria to form teams for next year’s Presidents Cup.
“I won’t be the type of captain that is dogged in a particular strategy,” he said. “I’ve always got eyes and ears open to everything going on and possibilities that could take place. There is no doubt an emotional spark is huge in sport and it can create some incredible momentum.
“My job – it’s like having a toolbox. You have a bunch of different tools and you have to figure out which ones to use when and when to trust your gut, when to trust the data. It will be a challenge I’ll have that week.”
Leishman and Smith think the key to success in New Orleans will be the balance of their competitive juices and a seemingly carefree attitude. They have rented a house together with their caddies Matty Kelly and Sam Pinfold and as a foursome they’ll certainly enjoy themselves.
But not too much. Not until Sunday night anyway. The Leishman Lager has been put on ice until then and they’re quick to point out they’re not just turning up to mess around.
“We are just going to have a good week. At the World Cup, we kept it pretty casual and we played good golf. It’s the same game plan this week, take it as a fun week but remember we are here to compete and win,” Smith says.
They really have just the one rule. Never say sorry. In fact they’re likely to laugh at any mishap rather than dwell on it. And they’re not afraid to joke at each other’s expense. At Metropolitan it was plain to see.
In the opening round Four-Balls, Smith made an early birdie and eagle and turned to Leishman to say, “You can turn up at any time,” with a cheeky smile. It worked as Leishman made three birdies in four holes after it.
In the final round, which used Foursomes, Leishman left a bunker shot in the sand at a critical moment as the locals were charging towards a potential comeback victory. Smith just jumped right in the sand, took aim, and holed out for an incredible birdie before quipping, “That’s how you do it,” to his mate. It took the edge off.
“The key is there’s not really any pressure because we are such good friends and if we do hit a bad shot we give each other stick rather than be disappointed or apologize,” Leishman explains. “I know he’s doing his best and I’m doing my best.”
And this week, they want to show how good their best can be.
Note: The Presidents Cup International Team recently launched its 2022 social media presence. Join the journey to Quail Hollow on Twitter @IntlTeam.