By Tod Leonard
Camiko Smith . By Jennifer Perez
With a flashlight in his pocket and golf clubs in hand, Camiko Smith hopped his backyard fence onto the fourth hole of the Port Royal Golf Course on his island homeland of Bermuda. It was there that he first picked up the game as a young boy when the caddie master gave him a single club, and it was Port Royal that became his constant practice and proving ground, even when he’d sneak on, put his flashlight next to the flagstick and practice in the faint glow of nearby streetlights. At least until someone kicked him off.
“That’s it right there, man,” Smith said proudly in a press conference on Tuesday. “No. 4 is my yard.”
The PGA Tour this week is staging the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal, a fledgeling event that was inaugurated last year but has taken on greater importance this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was supposed to be played opposite the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, but when that event had to be cancelled, Bermuda’s status was raised to standalone, with a full allotment of FedEx Cup points coming with it.
Brendon Todd is back to defend his championship from last year, and there are five former major winners in the field, including Henrik Stenson, Stewart Cink and Padraig Harrington. But no one this week is a better story than the 35-year-old Smith, who will make his PGA Tour debut after earning a spot by capturing the PGA Bermuda Championship.
To understand the enormity of this moment for Smith is to know that he carried a bag as a caddie in last year’s tournament, and in the downtime created by COVID-19, he’s been installing doors and windows for a commercial glass company on the island.
“Definitely very excited,” Smith said. “Scale of 1 to 10, I would say 9. It’s pretty high up there. To have it on my island, on my home course, right in my neighbourhood, front yard, backyard, it’s super exciting. Really looking forward to it, to being out there.”
Who knows if nerves will completely overtake Smith when his tee time arrives on Thursday, but if course knowledge accounts for anything, he’s miles ahead of the field. He can’t count the number of times he’s played Port Royal—it’s at least in the hundreds—and he was a pre-teen when he took up playing. Caddie master Teddy Greaves gave Smith his first golf club and every weekend the two would play and hit balls together.
“Him giving me access to the golf course, allowing me to hit balls, taking me out on the golf course on the weekend and play, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now. Yeah, a lot of gratitude towards him,” Smith said. “And he’s super excited.
Smith eventually caddied at Port Royal and other courses, and the island’s top golfers provided tutelage. It was Tiger Woods’ victory in the 1997 Masters that fueled Smith’s dream to play on the PGA Tour, and the caddie work eventually provided him with enough cash to go to Orlando and work with instructor Fred Griffin at the Grand Cypress Golf Academy.
Camiko Smith caddied at last year's inaugural Bermuda Championship at Port Royal.
Smith improved quickly, and he has been trying to forge his way on mini tours across the United States. He earned the fervent admiration of Bermudians when in a 2017 pro event he shot six under on the front nine and posted a 64 at Port Royal to tie the then-course record held by Masters champion Adam Scott. (That total was eclipsed by several players in last year’s Bermuda Championship, with the winner, Todd, shooting 62 and 63.)
The coronavirus has put at least a temporary obstruction in Smith’s path. With few opportunities to play competitively, he took a job four months ago with the glass company. Smith gets up at 4 a.m. to hit the gym, works on installations from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and then goes to the course to hit balls. He chuckled when noting that he’s a professional who’s hands mean everything while he constantly works around sharp objects.
“It’s pretty interesting,” he said. “I play golf and I’m working with glass. I guess it’s touch-and-go sometimes. I’ve got to be very, very cautious, but it’s definitely helped me along the way just keeping my passion and drive alive. It’s definitely helped me refocus that a lot.”
Smith said his boss graciously gave him two weeks off to prepare for the PGA Bermuda tournament that he won with scores of 70-71. “I told him, ‘Hey, look, if get in, another two weeks off.’ He called me and said, ‘You’ve got another two weeks off, here you go.’ He’s pretty stoked about it.”
The tour chose Bermuda as the first site to allow fans in attendance since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and don’t be surprised if Smith’s gallery is as plentiful as the major champions on his backyard course, which happens to be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“Knowing that, I would say it’s a humbling experience for that to happen at this time,” Smith said. “Just looking forward to make everybody proud, make myself proud, and my family and the island proud.”