EYES ONLY FOR AUGUSTA
New South Welshman Travis Smyth will be the in-form favourite when the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is contested at New Zealand’s Royal Wellington Golf Club later this month. And the young man knows only too well a win there gets him into the 2018 Ma
Travis Smyth will be the in-form favourite when the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is contested at Royal Wellington Golf Club later this month.
For the best part of a decade, Travis Smyth has followed the same ritual as most Australian golf fans when it comes to watching the Masters – set the alarm for an early rise and catch all the action from Augusta on the TV.
His earliest recollections are of Tiger Woods “doing Tiger stu … hitting incredible shots and doing a lot of fi st pumps.”
“I think I started watching the Masters when I was about 12 or 13 and I just remember how beautiful the course looked, how the crowd was and it looked like an exciting way to play golf,” Smyth said. “I’ve always felt I’d like to be a part of that.
“In amateur golf you don’t always have a big crowd around but I love the thought of a big gallery going crazy over good shots. That’s the way the game should be at the highest level and I hope I can be a part of it.”
It’s a dream that is not beyond his reach. In fact, it’s just one win away.
The 22-year-old will be among the favourites to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship to be played at New Zealand’s Royal Wellington Golf Club from October 26 to 29. Australian golfers have had a great record in the nine-year history of the event,
with West Australian Curtis Luck winning the title last year. Two years earlier, it was South Australian Antonio Murdaca who claimed the crown with a resounding seven-stroke victory.
Smyth is hoping to follow in their footsteps with a victory in Wellington, which will stamp his invite to the Masters at Augusta National next April.
Smyth joined his five fellow Australians – Harrison Endycott, Dylan Perry, Min Woo Lee, Shae Wools-Cobb and Charlie Dann – on a reconnaissance visit to Royal Wellington last month to familiarise themselves with the golf course.
“We flew over and had a look at the course for a couple of days,” Smyth said. “It was impressive.
“By the time the tournament starts we’ll have played more practice rounds at Royal Wellington than any other country, except the Kiwis of course.” The trip across the Tasman came less than a week after Smyth dominated a field of professionals to win the Northern Territory PGA Championship by six shots. With coach John Serhan pulling his bag, Smyth showed maturity beyond his years in closing out his first victory in a professional event.
“It was awesome,” Smyth said. “I know it’s a bit cliché but I was really just focusing on playing one shot at a time.
“I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard or worrying about what other people were doing, I just went back to thinking what have I got to do now to hit the best possible shot I can. I’d hit the shot, get to the next shot and go through the same thoughts again. I just did exactly the same thing over and over again.
“When you’re playing well it all seems so easy, I was feeling really confident in my game and I knew I was playing well so there was no need to think negative. It just felt really easy.” As Smyth was soaking up the media and gallery attention following the presentation ceremony, between draining water bottles in the afternoon Darwin heat, Serhan detailed some of the ‘exciting’ attributes his star pupil exudes in his approach to the game.
I FEEL THOSE ELITE AMATEUR EVENTS ARE AS HARD, IF NOT HARDER, THAN SOME OF THE PRO EVENTS I HAVE PLAYED. – TRAVIS SMYTH
Reaching the US Amateur Championship quarter finals at Riviera Country Club a fortnight earlier was tinged with mixed emotions – there was excitement and a sense of validation for all the hard work, but also a level of disappointment in losing such a tense battle at the final hole. “We had to talk through a little bit when he returned home,” Serhan said.
Clearly, it didn’t take long for Smyth to bounce back from the loss to eventual champion Doc Redman. In fact, the result in Los Angeles went a long way to helping him win in Darwin.
“I feel those elite amateur events are as hard, if not harder, than some of the pro events I have played,” Smyth said. “Out of all of the pro events I have played I’ve looked at the winning score and thought if I had played I could have had that.
“I’ve been more shocked at winning scores in amateur events than in pro events so far. Not taking anything away from these guys, they’re great players, but I feel like playing well at the US Amateur definitely gave me a huge boost going into a professional event.” Smyth was all calm and confidence from Day 1 at the NT PGA and by the time the
weekend rolled around, you never got the sense that anything other than a victory was likely to eventuate.
“The level of Travis’ game has been improving over the last couple of years but the US Amateur was definitely a signal that he was at another level,” Serhan said.
“Leading up to that, he played well in the UK at the British Amateur, then ran fourth in the Porter Cup and 28th in the Western Amateur, which are huge events on the world amateur schedule.
“The thing with Travis is, he challenges me all the time to try to make him better. Even when he’s playing well, he challenges me to make him better which obviously is the perfect mentality.
“Travis is really fortunate to be involved in the High Performance Program at Golf NSW, which Dean Kinney heads up, and he’s one of the players who’s really taken that opportunity and really run with it.
“He’s one that will leave no stone unturned to make sure he gets the most out of all the support. That’s really exciting for me. He’s a fine young man, he’s very down to earth, he works hard and I think we’re going to see some really nice things in the years to come.”
Results over the next month will determine Smyth’s immediate playing future, whether he’ll be teeing it up at The Masters as an amateur, or turning professional with hopefully a European Tour card in his back pocket if he successfully negotiates two stages of Qualifying School.
What’s assured is a PGA Tour of Australasia exemption from when he turns professional and the continuing support of Serhan, who has helped shape Smyth from the kid who couldn’t make the local pennant team a few years ago into an emerging force in Australian golf.
THE THING WITH TRAVIS IS, HE CHALLENGES ME ALL THE TIME TO TRY TO MAKE HIM BETTER. EVEN WHEN HE’S PLAYING WELL, HE CHALLENGES ME TO MAKE HIM BETTER WHICH OBVIOUSLY IS THE PERFECT MENTALITY. – JOHN SERHAN
Smyth, watched by coach John Serhan, plays from the rough en route to victory at the NT PGA.
Serhan says his charge challenges him to make him a better player.