2017 champion Travis Smyth declared at the prize giving ceremony on the 18th green at Palmerston last year that returning to the defend his title at the MMC Northern Territory PGA Championship would be 'the right thing to be doing'.
The Wollongong product has been a man of his word, lodging his entry to bring his imposing game and man bun back to defend the title he won in record-breaking fashion as an amateur last August, just two weeks on from his near-miss at the U.S. Amateur Championship at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
Smyth was in total control of his game from day one and his 19-under par total saw him clinch victory by a commanding six strokes over Victoria's Deyen Lawson, setting a new 72-hole scoring record for the young tournament that might well stand for many years to come.
The victory also helped shape Smyth's immediate future with the two-year exemption on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia a great comfort as he embarked on his professional career a few months later.
“I have great memories from last year and it kick started my pro career.” Smyth said from Malaysia, where he was preparing to play the Sarawak Championship on the Asian Tour.
“I had a great time off the course too staying with some mates over at Cullen Bay. We’re all going to do it again this year. I’m going to be pretty busy leading up to Palmerston and after it too, I’ve entered the Web.com Tour Qualifying School in October so I hope that coming back to Palmerston can help kick start a good finish to the year for me.”
In what would have been no surprise to anyone who saw him play at Palmerston last year, Smyth early forays into the professional ranks were an immediate success. Over a three-week period, Smyth cashed good cheques at the NSW and Australian Open (pictured below) and Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast, where 2016 champion Jordan Zunic lost in a playoff to Cameron Smith.
“My form carried on after winning at Palmerston last year. I played awesome in my first three events as a pro so it would be great to have a repeat of that this year if everything goes to plan.”
While he was unsuccessful in his qualifying school bid to join the European Tour, Smyth earned his Asian Tour card for 2018 by finishing fourth at 'Q School', giving him two places to play this year. Or so he thought.
He may be busy playing a lot of events right now but for the first few months of the year, he could barely get a game.
"With so many of the early season Asian Tour events being co and even tri-sanctioned with other Tours, I couldn’t get into many of the fields even though I ranked quite highly at the qualifying school." Smyth said.
Thirsty for tournament play, Smyth took a gamble of a month-long trip the U.S. to attempt to qualify for some Web.com Tour events over the northern spring/summer. He made it into the field at the United Leasing & Finance Championship in Indiana in May but succumbed at the halfway cut mark.
A succession of frustrating missed cuts on the Asian Tour have followed but Smyth puts these experiences all down to taking the path trodden by many before him – the learning process of playing professional golf in a different country and on a new golf course every week.
“I’ve been thrown a bit of a curve ball as of late as it’s been a bit flat results-wise, missing a lot of cuts. It’s something I’m not used to feeling as an amateur as the depths of the fields weren’t the same."
"It’s been a bit hard mentally to get over it but everyone’s got to do it, everyone’s going to have a patch in their career where it doesn’t feel right.”
“However, I’m still having fun out here travelling around everywhere and I’m working my butt off to do everything I can to get these results flowing again. That’s what you sign up for when you turn pro.”
With the Championship’s first two winners Smyth and Zunic back in the field next month, a potential ‘Wollongong three-peat’ at Palmerston is definitely something Smyth is licking his lips in anticipation of if the results start to flow – in his favour of course.
“Bloody oath,” he laughed, “That would be so good.”