BROOKLINE, Mass. -- Cameron Smith has never won a major championship in his professional career, but don't be surprised if his breakthrough comes at the U.S. Open this week.
Smith arrived at The Country Club as one of the top contenders. He has five top 10 finishes and two wins on the PGA Tour this season. He finished T-3rd at the Masters and T-13th at the PGA Championship last month.
The 28-year-old star leads the PGA Tour in scoring average (69.235) and ranks fourth in one-putt percentage (45.28). He's also posted a 68.1 greens in regulation. Simply put, it's hard to find a real hole in Smith's game right now.
Smith has come close to winning a major a few times. He's finished top 10 on five occasions. Smith is confident that his impressive play at Augusta and Southern Hills will carry into this week.
"Yeah, I think so. I love the majors. I feel like they bring out the best in me," Smith said Tuesday. "I love the demand for good play and just the grinding out good scores. I feel like I've had a little bit of success in U.S. Opens before. Yeah, I feel like this is a really good venue for me."
The course in Brookline is going to be quite challenging. What does Smith see as mightily important for a successful week?
"I think it's a bit of a second-shot course," Smith said. "Obviously, off the tee it's very demanding as well, but I feel like you need to be smart into the greens. There's plenty of pitch to the greens. You need to be underneath the hole, especially as the week goes on. I think the greens will get firmer and faster. Yes, so I just think the control into the greens is going to be really important."
Despite the challenging nature of the course, Smith really likes it so far.
"It's probably my favorite U.S. Open venue I think I've been to," he said. "Lots of options off the tee. Have to strike the ball well, obviously. Yeah, just a real typical old-school course. I love it."
Here are some other notes from Monday and Tuesday at The Country Club:
-- The U.S. Open will be Phil Mickelson's first major since officially joining LIV Golf. He has received a large amount of criticism for his decision. The PGA Tour even suspended him, along with the other 16 members who competed in LIV Golf's inaugural tournament in London this past weekend.
Despite the backlash, Mickelson was well-received by the crowd at The Country Club on Tuesday when he played his first practice round alongside Kevin Na and reigning U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm.
I followed him for the first five holes he played. Some of the chants directed toward Mickelson included, "Boston loves you Phil", "Welcome back Phil", "Beard looks great". If Tuesday was any indication, the majority of fans will be cheering on Mickelson when the tournament begins Thursday.
The U.S. Open also is the only one of the four majors Mickelson has failed to win.
- Jon Rahm holed an eagle from more than 100 yards out on the Par 4 fourth hole during his practice round alongside Mickelson and Na. It drew an excited reaction from the many fans along the fairway and surrounding the green.
Here's a photo of Mickelson congratulating Rahm on the impressive shot.
-- A fan at Tuesday's practice round was walking around in a Max Pacioretty Montreal Canadiens jersey. It was an interesting sight at a Boston-area sporting event, to say the least.
-- Brooks Koepka is the only player since 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles. He won the tournament in 2017 and 2018.
What does it take to win at such a challenging event?
"A lot of discipline," Koepka said. "Whether that means laying up off tees, just to hit fairways, missing in the correct spots, not being suckered into any pin locations even though it might be a go yardage for you or anything like that. You've just got to be disciplined, stay kind of always in that moment.
"You know you're going to make a bunch of bogeys, try not to make a double bogey. That's always been my big goal in majors is you never make a double bogey out here, you're doing all right. You get out of trouble, then get back in position. That's the key to U.S. Opens."
-- The 17th hole at The Country Club has a lot of history. It's where Justin Leonard sunk the winning putt for the United States at the 1999 Ryder Cup, which capped off one of the best comebacks in the tournament's history.
Fans who walk around the 17th hole this week will notice some thick rough and several sand traps that golfers will try to navigate around.
It's a challenging hole that will require plenty of mental toughness, skill and patience to survive.
"Yeah, it's unique," Justin Thomas said Monday when asked about the 17th hole. "Unlike a lot of holes out here are pretty self-explanatory off the tee, it's just am I going to hit a driver or am I going to hit a 3-wood, whatever it is, but I think that hole presents a lot of opportunities of different clubs off the tees.
"Especially with how a lot of guys are playing nowadays. A handful of guys are probably going to hit driver, try to hit it right in front of the green. Or if you get a helping wind, maybe the tee is up, you can knock it on the green. But then again, I'm sure the rough is going to be nasty up there to where you get opposition. It's tough, and then it's, like, do you lay up? Do you lay up to a good number?
"It's a hole that you can have a two-shot swing on it pretty quickly for it being a pretty short, easy hole, but it's really just going to be how you want to attack it or approach it once you get to that point, especially come Saturday and Sunday."
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