Reigning Open champion Cameron Smith is hoping a short golf trip to Dubai last week is just the kind of last-minute preparation he needed to make a winning start to his season for the second consecutive year.
The popular Australian, known as much for his mullet as his smooth short game, is the highest-ranked player in the Saudi International field at world No 4.
Smith won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on the PGA Tour in his first start of 2022, smashing all previous scoring records in a 34-under par effort. He is hoping he can make a similar impact at the Asian Tour's season-opening event – the $5 million Saudi International – even though he did not practise much during the off-season.
“I think 2022 probably would be a really tough one to back up," said the 29-year-old from Brisbane, who won the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship in December.
“It’s just about keeping the same processes going, really digging deep, working hard on my game. I think that is really what I need to do. Everything becomes really easy when you’re playing good golf.
“I have to just keep on top of all that, keep on top of the body, and just keep working on it.”
The trip to Dubai and the golf he played there with a few friends has got the juices flowing.
“I had never been to Dubai before. In fact, I really hadn't spent much time in the Middle East before the start of last year, and it’s been unreal. I loved it in Dubai, and I love it over here,” said Smith.
“It was such a great city. We had a lot of fun. We played a lot of good golf courses. It’s unreal over here and it’s definitely feeling more like home for sure.
“We played at the Trump course in Dubai. Matty Jones’s (who is now part of Smith’s all-Australian team in LIV Golf) brother set it up. It was just a great facility. We played the golf course, and they also have a great par-three course there. We had loads of fun around that. We were there only for three or four days, but it made me hungry to play golf.”
Smith has dropped from No 2, with the Official World Golf Ranking not awarding points to LIV events. It has been a bone of contention between golfers and organisers, with players fearing they will drop so far down that they will not be able to qualify for major championships.
And while the OWGR did not matter to Smith personally, he did not mince his words in saying that the whole concept becomes obsolete if some of the best players in the world are not ranked just because they are playing on a different tour.
“I’ve tried not to take it that badly, to be honest. I think when you rock up to a tournament, you know who you have to beat, whether there is a world ranking or not. There are generally seven or eight guys that are in that field that you know are going to put up a pretty good fight,” Smith explained.
“For sure, it hurts. I feel as though I was really close to getting to No 1, and that was definitely something I wanted to tick off. However, the longer this stuff goes on, I think the more obsolete those rankings become.”
The first round of Saudi International starts on Thursday. Smith is part of the afternoon marquee group with Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, teeing off at 13:15 UAE time.