Smyth Gained Inspiration from Fellow Aussie Luck
August 18, 2017 | PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF.
By By Michael Trostel, USGA
Travis Smyth was glued to his computer, impatiently refreshing his screen every 30 seconds. It was late-summer 2016, and the Australian was in the United States to play competitive golf, but he had missed qualifying for that year’s U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club three weeks earlier.
Now he watched the live scoring feed in elated disbelief as his compatriot, Curtis Luck, reeled off hole after hole – eight consecutive wins – against Brad Dalke in the championship match. Luck was on his way to becoming the third Australian to earn the coveted Havemeyer Trophy.
Smyth was happy for his friend and proud of his significant accomplishment. But he also had personal ambition. “I can do that, too,” he said to himself – in part for motivation and in part because he knew he had the game to compete with the world’s top amateurs.
Smyth’s journey in the game started a decade ago when, as a 12-year-old, he got injured playing rugby.
“One of my mates that played golf took me to a football field,” said Smyth, 22. “I had never played before, but we started hitting these wooden clubs and I just picked it up really quickly. I finished football that year and all I could think about was golf.”
Smyth’s game progressed rapidly after he graduated high school. He moved to Sydney, joined St. Michael’s Golf Club and began dedicating more time to practice. In the past few years, he has traveled around the world to play in top-level amateur tournaments.
“I've been to a lot of countries and a lot of states and I'm very used to living out of my suitcase,” said Smyth. “I’ve been to Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, Abu Dhabi and a lot of the states in America. I'm pretty comfortable not being at home all the time.”
Fast-forward to Thursday afternoon and the Round of 16 in the 2017 U.S. Amateur. Smyth, who held a 4-up lead through eight holes against Will Zalatoris, the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, was now clinging to a 1-up advantage. He was bunkered, about 45 yards short of the par-5 17th green in two, while Zalatoris was safely on the green in three, about 25 feet away.
Many who have played the game would call the long bunker shot the most difficult in golf. But as Smyth dug his feet into the sand, he thought back to the practice area at St. Michael’s.
“I just pictured being back home and kept thinking that I have played this shot hundreds of times,” said Smyth. “The scene was so perfect and I executed it exactly how I wanted to.”
Using a sand wedge, Smyth clipped the bunker shot cleanly, landing it a few feet to the left of the hole. It checked up and spun to the right, settling 5 feet behind the hole. After Zalatoris’ birdie putt narrowly missed, Smyth stepped up and confidently drained his putt to win the match, 2 and 1.
Zalatoris, the No. 10-ranked amateur, was Smyth’s second victim in the top 10 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ on Thursday. He also defeated No. 3 Braden Thornberry, 3 and 2, in the Round of 32 that morning.
After the match, as he walked in front of Riviera’s renowned clubhouse on his way to meet some media obligations, Smyth passed a large poster of Luck kissing the Havemeyer Trophy after his win. He paused, smiled, and continued into the interview room.
It’s hard not to see the resemblance between the two Aussies – both in their games and their appearances. They have calm demeanors and are excellent ballstrikers. They also both wear their long hair pulled back into a “man bun.”
“I started it a long time before Curtis did,” laughed Smyth. “That's my claim to fame. Where I come from, a little beach town just south of Sydney, it's very popular.”
“I’ve probably had it for at least three years. I saw Marcel Siem do it on the European Tour one time. I thought, you know what? There are not many golfers out there with man buns and he's a pro and he's doing it. I might just grow it out, too.”
If Smyth wins his next three matches, he would join Luck, Nick Flanagan (2003) and Walter Travis (1900, 1901, 1903) as the only Australians to win the U.S. Amateur.
While Smyth didn’t see Luck – now playing on the PGA Tour – when Luck stopped by Riviera on Tuesday afternoon, he hoped to communicate with him to draw some inspiration from last year’s run to the title.
“We've played a lot of golf together and have traveled around a fair bit,” said Smyth. “We are definitely good buddies, so I'll reach out to him. I can draw a lot of confidence from seeing a mate of mine win the U.S. Amateur.”
Smyth and Luck already share the same hairstyle. In less than 72 hours, they could be sharing a place on the Havemeyer Trophy.
Michael Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.