An emotional returning of the Claret Jug has only strengthened Cameron Smith’s desire to win back his most prized possession at Royal Liverpool this week.
A masterful final round of 64 earned the Australian glory in The 150th Open at St Andrews 12 months ago, continuing a memorable year which also saw him lift the Players Championship.
Silverware has been harder to come by in 2023 but Smith feels he has improved since his victory on the Old Course and has his sights firmly set on becoming the first player since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to win back-to-back Opens.
“I thought I was going to be alright handing it back but I was holding back some tears, it was a bit of a moment which crept up on me,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel real a year down the road but I want it back so badly.
“I have been saying to my mates ‘it will only be a week and we will be drinking out of it again’. Hopefully it’s another week like last year and I can come back with the trophy.
“I think I’m a better golfer now than last year. The stuff I had to clean up is progressing, it’s a bit of a work in progress. My 5-iron and up has always been a struggle for me and I’ve worked on that harder than in the past.
“I feel it’s right there, it just all has to come together. The first round I had at Centurion a couple of weeks ago was the first time I felt it come together but the driver let me down over the weekend.
“It hasn’t been there for all four rounds but it feels really close.”
The old adage states that it is harder to retain a title than win one in the first place and Smith is keen to look forward rather than back.
But walking up the 18th fairway at St Andrews as an imminent Open Champion is a privilege afforded to only a treasured few and Smith was happy to delve into the memory bank as he plots a repeat of last year’s feat.
“Being in the Old Course Hotel with the Claret Jug was pretty fun on Sunday night,” he said.
“The 18th hole was one of the most stressful but enjoyable five minutes of my life. I said before I wish I had a few shots up my sleeve to really enjoy it but the walk up the 18th hole, the ceremony on the green and that night were memories I’ll never forget.
“The most fun thing I did with it was take it back to my home club in Brisbane.
“They had their presentation night where they present the club champion with the trophy and it was one of the first night I got back to Australia.
“We had a ripping night and for a little country club outside Brisbane to have the Claret Jug in it was pretty special.”
Smith has been in the UK for several weeks ahead of the defence of his crown and hopes both he and the Australian cricket team will enjoy days to remember on Sunday, which also marks the final day of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford.
He got his eye in around Royal Liverpool with several practice holes over the weekend and knows he will have to be at his best if conditions remain changeable on Merseyside.
“Sunday was a windy day but I got out to play 1 through 5 and then 14 through 18,” he said.
“It’s a great venue, it was playing very strong yesterday because of the wind, which we will have to deal with all week. It’s a great test out there.
“I never expect too much of myself but there’s definitely something on the inside that wants to win two, three, four majors - however many I can.
“But I try not to let that get in the way. I’m just going to go out and give my all.”