How Augusta gets into a player’s mind
AUSSIE young gun Cameron Smith was terrified the first time he teed it up at the US Masters.
"All I remember from that first year being there was just s---ing myself on pretty much every single shot," the world No. 28 said.
"That was awesome."
Smith made the cut and tied for 55th that year (2016), didn't qualify in 2017 but stormed home to finish fifth in last year's race for the green jacket.
"It's a pretty special place," he said.
"The drive down Magnolia Lane was pretty cool the first time. I went there with my caddy and we had a couple of practice rounds before the tournament.
"We were there for a couple of days and played the 18th twice, and that was cool in itself, but then when the actual tournament turned up it's a different beast."
Smith, 25, is the youngest of four Australians in this week's field of 86, but his two previous encounters with world golf's only permanent major venue taught him the importance of ball-placement at Augusta.
"Around the greens you can get yourself in some spots where it is literally impossible to hit it within 30 or 40ft, so if you know your way around well enough to know where to miss it to certain pins - and if you actually do it - the course becomes a lot easier," he said.
"General course knowledge is probably the biggest thing around there."
Favourite hole? "All of them. There's not a bad one out there. It's incredible - I love it."
Hardest hole? "Probably 11, it's a bit of a beast and is usually playing a little bit into the wind.
"If it's still you can probably get an eight or seven-iron there (with the second shot), but I've hit three-irons in there before, which is quite tough."
Smith credits his impressive majors record - two top-five finishes - to his laconic Queensland outlook.
"I've never put a lot of expectation or pressure on myself to do well in those events," Smith said.
"A lot of guys out here put a lot of pressure on themselves to play well, and just with that on their shoulders alone it kind of hurts them.
"I've got a little bit more of a laid-back approach I guess you could say, and if it's my week to play well, it's good, and if it's not the sun will still come up the next day.
"There are times when it's frustrating, but I try to keep all that stuff as level as I can."
Of the other Australians at Augusta - Adam Scott, Jason Day and Marc Leishman - Smith said: "We all get along and sit with each other at player dining and have a few practice rounds here and there.
"We've got a good little Aussie group going with everyone on the Tour.
"I follow rugby league, Leish follows the AFL, Jason doesn't really follow much sport at home now and Adam follows the AFL a little bit.
"We talk about cricket a bit because we're all on the same team, but we don't give each other shit so much because we all follow different codes."
A mad Brisbane Broncos fan, Smith admits to getting up "as early as I can (to) watch the whole game" on a week off.
"The weeks where I'm on the course I usually leave it alone, I'm more worried about my golf," he said.
"But I reckon they'll go pretty solid this year, they've got a nice little side and a different vibe there with the new coach."
Smith lives with his American girlfriend Jordan Ontiveros at Jacksonville, Florida, three minutes from TPC Sawgrass, but he's unlikely to stick around in the US once his golfing days are over.
"Every time I come home I never want to leave, so I think I'll be coming back as soon as I'm done over here," Smith said.
"She loves it as well so hopefully she's on my side with that."
He said 14 family members were invading Augusta this year.
"We've had to rent a couple of houses that are close to each other. There's a fair few of us - dad, mum, sister, a couple of friends, my grandfather, my grandmother, my girlfriend and my girlfriend's parents."
On the Tiger Woods factor, Smith said: "He's out here quite frequently now and the amount of people he draws is absolutely insane. I've never seen anything like it.
"Everyone respects him and what he has done for golf. And he's not a bad fella, too.
"I haven't played with him yet, but I always see him around the locker rooms and stuff like that and he always says hello or gives you a little fist pump."
Smith's form has been solid and he's ironed out some issues with the driver that cost him at the Players Championship.
"I didn't play as well as I'd like to. It's a bit of a tricky course (TPC Sawgrass) and I just didn't quite drive the ball how I know I can. It got me into trouble and it's hard to recover out here with that.
"I've been doing a little bit of work on it, but it's not like it's a big problem … it will kind of resolve itself."
Whatever happens this week, Smith will take it in his stride.
"It's just golf to me. I don't even really think of it as a job. I work hard and I'm passionate about it, but I just take it as it comes."