Cameron Smith’s secrets to Masters success
THE PLAYERS champ has three top-10s in the past four Masters
April 04, 2022
By Ben Everill , PGATOUR.COM
- Cameron Smith during Round 1 of the 2021 Masters Tournament. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Cameron Smith of Australia is seeking to join an exclusive club this week. Only Tiger Woods has won THE PLAYERS and the Masters in the same year, and it happened when Woods was at the height of his powers. Woods’ first PLAYERS win came in 2001, just two weeks before he completed the Tiger Slam by making the Masters his fourth consecutive major victory.
Smith has already won THE PLAYERS this year – in addition to his record-setting victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January – and all signs point to him as a favorite this week at Augusta National. Smith, who’s third in the FedExCup and sixth in the world ranking, has finished in the top 10 in three of his last four Masters appearances, including a runner-up in 2020 when he became the first player in Masters history to break 70 in all four rounds.
And while four of the last five champions at Augusta National were in at least their 10th Masters start, Smith feels he’s banked up the experience necessary to become just the second Australian to win at Augusta National.
We sat down with Smith to pick his brain and find five keys to preparing and playing well at the Masters.
1. Tap into your creative side
Smith missed 25 greens at the 2020 Masters but made just nine bogeys on his way to an impressive 15-under total and runner-up finish. He produced incredible par saves on his final three holes in the third round to stay within four of Dustin Johnson, and Smith pulled within two Sunday after two incredible birdies from tough spots on the first nine. One of those, on the par-4 seventh hole, appeared set to be a certain punch out to, at best, a greenside bunker after his drive leaked right into the trees. But Smith saw a tiny window up through the branches. He decided to gamble. Swinging as hard as he could, he launched the ball into orbit from 120 yards out. It sailed through the trees unscathed and onto the putting surface, coming to rest 10 feet from the hole. “I wasn’t here to finish second,” Smith said of his aggressive play. It was the vision to even see the shot that makes Smith the type of player who can win a Green Jacket.
Smith says: “When it comes to playing well at Augusta National you need to be able to see a variety of shots from a variety of places and have the ability to recover from wherever you might end up. If you are not able to see a handful of ways to play shots, or the right way to play them, you can get into trouble quickly. So, for me, it is important to really get that creative mindset ready to go in the lead up. I play that way most of the time, but at Augusta you find slopes and quadrants on the greens you need to use, and elevation changes across the course that mean you might need to play in the air, along the ground, or even a combination of both. Not only do you need to open your mind to different options, but you need to be confident when executing them also. I actually usually use the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play to help dial this attitude in, as Austin Country Club has a lot of imaginative ways to play shots. This year, I’ve had to replicate it on my own at home (Smith withdrew from the Match Play to spend more time with family visiting from Australia). Sometimes when I’m playing with mates in practice, I’ll make bets that I can get up and down from tough spots to help get my mind locked in. Obviously the practice rounds of tournament week are important here also.”
2. Dial in your irons, especially from 130-140 yardsCameron Smith puts a premium on quality short-iron shots at Augusta National Golf Club. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
With Augusta National being somewhat generous off the tee, it becomes important to have your approach game in a good place that week. For Smith, who’s eighth in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green this season, it is about extra effort, particularly on the wedge game, as the Masters nears. Last season, Smith was best on TOUR from 100-125 yards and eighth from 125-150 yards. This season, he’s on point again from 100-125 yards, ranked seventh, but has slipped a little from 125-150 and ranks 133rd. So that is his focus.
Smith says: “Augusta is a second-shot golf course so you really have to have your approach game on point. You really need to hit it into certain spots on the greens to score well because it is a tricky golf course. In simple terms, you just have to hit good quality shots if you want to win. It's not just a simple cliche like leaving it below the hole because there are certain pins, for example the pin on the top tier at the back-right of the sixth green, you don't want to be below the pin there because you'll have 30-40 feet uphill. Sometimes you need to remember par is a really good score and if you get away with a birdie you've had a win. You need to keep that mentality and patience.
“Your wedge game is a really big key. Particularly around 130-140 because the course is so tough and the pins are so tight you really have to get those dialed in if you want to play well and contend. In the lead up, I try to spend a lot more time with the wedges in hand and try to get a few competitive games going as I look to get those numbers in sync. I’ll grab TrackMan and call the yardage I thinks shots will carry and then check to see how close I am. I want to be very accurate in this space. That way you can stand over any shot and feel comfortable that you can get to the spot you need to get to.”
3. Get ready for grain and tight lies
Smith’s short game is among the best in the game, and it needs to be at the Masters. He ranks 20th on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and has been inside the top 40 in five of the last six seasons. An ability to nip the ball off of tight lies around the greens gives players a leg up, but Smith cheekily says it takes “23 years of practice,” to get it just right more often than not.
Smith says: “Chipping is very important. The reality is it gets really grainy at Augusta National. It's the way they mow it. … They mow it all going away from you so you're constantly chipping into the grain. It seems like you always need to nip it perfectly to get a good result from your shots. I definitely practice a lot more around the greens, especially trying to use slopes in a variety of ways. Again, this is where your creative mind must be used. You need to see the options in your mind and make the right decision. I use the practice rounds each year to mess around a bit with trying things around the greens. You never know what you might be faced with and you need confidence to find, and execute, a way to get the ball to the hole.”
4. Bend it both waysCameron Smith hits a drive on the eighth hole during the Masters in 2021. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Smith won the PLAYERS despite ranking last in the field in driving accuracy. The driver has never been Smith’s best club and he’s always ranked outside the top in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. He makes up for it with his iron play, short game and putting. He points out he’s improved his driving accuracy at the last two Masters, however, hitting 64% of fairways in 2020 and almost 68% in 2021. His focus though, is on shaping shots.
Smith says: “The key to driving at the Masters is the ability to shape it both ways off the tee. I know people say you need to hit a draw – and there are a lot of shots where right-to-left is the shot – but you definitely still need to hit a fade. This idea that it's only a draw course, I don't buy that. You obviously want to hit the fairways, especially on the par-5s where you need to make your moves or get left behind. And the more fairways you hit the better, but that isn’t the be-all and end-all.
“I'll spend extra time trying to get my shape correct off the tee – and I do spend effort on the draw because I find it harder to hit driver right-to-left naturally – but I’ll also spend time with my 3-wood for that shot. It's easier for me to turn a 3-wood over from right to left, so I'll use that where appropriate in the spots where driver is a bit awkward for me. I definitely use the 3-wood a little more at the Masters than other weeks.”
5. The need for speed (control)
Smith was 10th in Strokes Gained: Putting last season and ranks third this year. His flatstick work at the PLAYERS was incredible, particularly in the final round where he one-putted his way to victory. When it comes to recent champions at the Masters, six of the last seven ranked inside the top 20 in total putts and four of those were in the top 10. In his last four Masters, Smith ranked 13th, ninth, second and 33rd in number of putts. The 28-year-old says speed is the key to his putting at the sloping greens of Augusta National.
Smith says: “For the most part, putting is about where to leave yourself on the Augusta greens. Speed is where you really have to put your efforts. In the practice rounds I tend to hit longer, curling putts from all spots as I work to get my speed as dialed in as possible. You can get in some (crazy) situations and, like I’ve said a few times now, you will need to creatively use slopes to get close to some holes and avoid three-putts. You want your lag speed to be near perfect because three-putts are killers most weeks, especially at majors. The course changes from early in the week to the tournament days, also, so you have to be able to adjust with the speed – and that is where prior experience can help – as can your warmup each day on the practice greens.”