LATE NIGHT WITH CAM SMITH
British Open 2022: This is what it’s like to party late into the night with an Open champion
Cam Smith holds the claret jug at his after party with Australian correspondents Ben Everill (left) and the author of this story Evin Preist (right).
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — At 6.45 a.m. on Sunday, just hours before the start of the final round of the 150th Open, Andrew Thomson, son of the late, great Peter Thomson, spread some of his father’s ashes across the Old Course. The Australian icon triumphed at the 1955 Open at St Andrews—one of five Opens he won between 1954 and 1965—and the 150th was the first edition held at the Home of Golf since Thomson died in 2018.
“My mother told him before he passed that she was going to keep a small portion of his ashes and they’d be scattered on the Old Course during the Open,” Andrew said. “My father said, ‘Well, there’s not much I’ll be able to do about that, but I don’t object.’”
Only 12 hours after Thomson’s ashes were scattered from a spice jar, another Australian, Cameron Smith, lifted the claret jug at St. Andrews. Whether that’s divine intervention or pure coincidence, we’ll never know, but given that Smith started the final round four shots back of co-leader and crowd favorite Rory McIlroy, it certainly didn’t hurt.
In the end, Smith didn’t need any help—five straight birdies to start the back nine of the Open, and another on the 72nd hole, took care of that. Smith claimed his first major on the grandest stage in golf and the post-tournament celebrations were fitting.
The after party was held at the Old Course Hotel, behind a fortress of polite yet firm security guards; those not on the guest list had to be approved by the R&A before security could escort them into the party.
Andrew Thomson, son of five-time Open champion Peter Thomson from Australia, was at St. Andrews this week and spread his late father's ashes on the hallowed grounds.
The festivities were exactly how Smith wanted: beers flowing, Australian bands like Cold Chisel and INXS blasting pub classics on speakers and caddies far outnumbering tour players. Smith adores caddies. Adam Scott was there, and so were a couple of Australian pros who’d qualified for the 150th Open, but the bagmen were the life of the party. Smith’s looper, Sam Pinfold, was emotional after following in the footsteps of his fellow New Zealander, Steve Williams, in guiding a player (Tiger Woods) to an Open victory at St Andrews.
“From the moment I met him eight years ago, I knew he was different gravy,” says Pinfold, using a phrase common in the United Kingdom and Australia. “He has a look in his eye that tells you he’s going to stand and deliver.”
Smith’s coach, Grant Field, agreed, saying, “The sky is the limit for Cam. I can see more majors in his future if he puts the work in.”
Smith wore the gold medal proudly on his chest the entire night. The gold medal seems to be forgotten in the shadow of the claret jug, but Smith beamed when asked about it throughout the night. The 150-year-old trophy was the star of the show, however, and everyone wanted a photo with it and Smith. The jug stayed around a stage at one end of the player lounge at the Old Course hotel and some, including your correspondent, even chugged beer out of it.
Smith was meticulous in calculating how many brews the jug could hold, and it was decided the official number was just shy of two bottles of Birra Moretti—seemingly the official lager of the night.
Players, caddies, members of Smith’s team, representatives from Australian golf governing bodies and other guests took turns in congratulating Smith on breaking through after several close calls at the majors. The 28-year-old played in the final group at the Masters this year, but faded to a tie for third after a birdie-birdie start to the final day. He also tied for second place at the November 2020 Masters.
Smith said he was chuffed at firing the lowest back-nine score (30) by a winner in Open history, but he was even more proud of shooting 20 under par and beating Woods’ St. Andrews scoring record (19 under in 2000) by one. The new World No. 2 pinpointed the moment he knew he was going to win.
“It was the birdie on 13,” said Smith, sitting in a chair and nursing the claret jug like a newborn. “It’s a tough hole, the one I made double at on Saturday. I drew level with Rory and felt that was huge.”
Cam Smith holds the claret jug with his caddie Sam Pinfold after his victory in the final round of the 150th Open at the Old Course.
Toward the end of the night, the party grew in numbers. Former rugby superstars George Gregan, who captained the Australian side during their golden years of the 1990s and early 2000s, came for a drink with South African rugby great, Bryan Habana. Smith headed to bed around 2 a.m. to get a few-hours sleep before an 8 a.m. flight back to Florida, with the claret jug stashed in a road case and placed in the overhead.
Several members of Smith’s entourage couldn’t make it to Scotland. His girlfriend, Shanel Naoum, a chiropractor in Jacksonville, had exams to tend to. His childhood best friend, Jack Wilkosz, who now lives in Florida, was called via FaceTime at the party while he was sitting at Jacksonville airport heading home to Australia for a pre-arranged vacation. Wilkosz was so nervous watching the final round that he had to stand for four hours. Smith’s father, Des, opted not to travel to Scotland but was an emotional wreck watching the broadcast back in Smith’s hometown of Brisbane.
The second-to-last group teed off at 11:40 p.m. Australian time, and Des watched the coverage through the night. He agreed to stay awake and do several breakfast show interviews looking “rough as guts” but proud as punch.
“I was bawling my eyes out speaking to Cam when he’d come off the green. His manager Bud put him on the phone to me,” Des Smith said over the phone.
Smith’s wide circle of friends in his adopted hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., also weren’t able to attend the after party. Close friend, Matt Kelly, an Aussie who caddies for Marc Leishman, headed home to Florida after Leishman missed the cut. But former PGA Tour pro, Aron Price, the Godfather of the Australian golfers based in Jacksonville, was organizing a second after party.
“There’ll be Round 2,” Price said.
When you win the Open Championship, something only five different Australians have done, there will be more than one celebration.