‘Bad image for golf’: Smith unhappy with rival’s 15-minute tree time

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Cameron Smith has accused a Thai rival of breaking the rules of golf and leaving a “bad image” after he rummaged through dense bush for up to 15 minutes trying to determine whether he could play a shot.

Just over a week after controversy clouded the final holes of the Hong Kong Open, Australia’s No.1 ranked golfer said he had thought long and hard about the incident, which involved Phachara Khongwatmai and his caddie appearing to affect the area around his ball.

Khongwatmai’s actions clearly frustrated Smith and playing partner Ben Campbell, who went on to win the Asian Tour event after the incident on the 16th hole during the final round.

Khongwatmai was leading by one shot at the time and was given the blessing of a rules official as he tried to address his ball.

Speaking for the first time about the incident on Tuesday before his Australian PGA defence at Royal Queensland this week, Smith said: “I’ve had a fair bit of time to think about it. I’m still very confused at what happened, to be honest.

“I guess my idea of the rules, they were probably broken. But that’s not up to me, there were plenty of officials there seeing what happened.

Cameron Smith poses with a Maroons jersey and a cane toad before the Australian PGA this week.Credit: Getty

“Hopefully they can just learn from it and really not let it happen again. For golf being such an etiquette kind of sport, I think it’s a bad image for golf. They need to be more on top of it than what they were for sure.”

The Asian Tour released a statement last week admitting a mistake was made and that Khongwatmai should have been penalised for his treatment of the area.

A golfer is allowed to move dead or displaced branches or twigs around their ball, but not if they are connected to other foliage, which subsequently may improve a player’s lie or stance.

Smith hasn’t been shy in calling out other players in the past, famously butting heads with former US Masters winner Patrick Reed after he was penalised two shots for improving his lie at Tiger Woods’ tournament in the Bahamas in 2019.

Phachara Khongwatmai deep in the undergrowth with at the Hong Kong Open.Credit: Getty

Reed travelled to Australia the following week to play on the Woods-led United States team in the Presidents Cup against Smith’s International side.

While Smith’s runner-up finish in the Hong Kong Open is now in the rearview mirror, the 30-year-old is trying to win a fourth Joe Kirkwood Cup in his home town of Brisbane this week.

Not only does he want to claim more silverware on home soil, last year’s The Open champion is desperate to claim world rankings points as he chases a spot on the Australian team for the Olympic Games next year.

Smith has slid to No.18 in the world from a high of two, and is expecting to fall further given 54-hole LIV Golf events are still not recognised for world rankings points.

The top two men’s and women’s players from Australia will qualify for Paris, with Jason Day (21), Cameron Davis (44), Min Woo Lee (45) and Adam Scott (47) all primed to earn a spot on the Olympic team.

Asked if he would play more Asian Tour events next year to qualify, Smith said: “I think I would, but I think that’s a wait and see type thing.

“I’ve got these couple of events here and probably four more looks again in the majors. So hopefully I can keep that ranking up and wear the coat of arms on the chest again, which is pretty special.”

Smith and fellow LIV Golf star Marc Leishman (world No.422) represented Australia in the men’s competition at Tokyo.

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