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Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann join LIV Golf as PGA’s rival tour lands biggest acquisitions to date

Following weeks of rumors, Cameron Smith has officially joined LIV Golf, headlining a group of six players who have been added to the rival upstart. Smith, the Champion Golfer of the Year and winner of the Players Championship — the PGA Tour’s flagship event — is LIV Golf’s biggest acquisition to date as the 29-year-old is just now entering the prime of his playing career.

The world No. 2 is not alone in his move from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf. Smith is accompanied by Cameron Tringale, Harold Varner III, Marc Leishman, Anirban Lahiri and, most notably, his former Presidents Cup teammate Joaquin Niemann. The young Chilean was a mainstay on leaderboards throughout the 2021-22 season on the PGA Tour and captured the greatest title of his career at the Genesis Invitational hosted by Tiger Woods in February.

The 23-year-old Niemann was reportedly firmly on the fence leading up to this decision. He was a participant in the PGA Tour players-only meeting the week of the BMW Championship and played practice rounds with the likes of Rory McIlroy ahead of the Tour Championship, where the two discussed his future. The world No. 19 traveled to the LIV Boston event without a contract in hand and was ultimately swayed to make the jump from the PGA Tour.

Originally thought to be seven new faces, presumed PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young was rumored to round out the newcomers for the LIV Boston event. With sweeping changes made to the PGA Tour’s schedule and compensation, in addition to future participation in team events and majors championships being in question, the 25-year-old decided to stay put, however. 

“Frankly, throughout the whole process with them I was very interested,” said Young. “I think they have a bunch of good ideas. I think they’re doing some cool stuff, and with some of those changes coming, that’s what really helped me decide to stay and pursue those goals that I have for myself, like making the Presidents Cup team or Ryder Cup team and winning a major, when all of that is just uncertain if you go.”

Leishman, Lahiri and Tringale all fit the initial mold of LIV’s target player: those who have enjoyed moderately successful playing careers, but may be considered by some to be over the hill. While the departure of those three will not impact the PGA Tour, Smith, Niemann and Varner could each be viewed as a substantial loss. 

Word of Smith’s interest in LIV Golf first surfaced at the press conference following his impressive victory at the 150th Open at St. Andrews. Not denying any possible link at the time, Smith was then peppered with questions at the St. Jude Championship after Cameron Percy told an Australian radio station that Smith was as good as gone.

“I have no comment to that,” Smith stated when asked if he planned to join LIV Golf. “Like I said, I’m here to play the FedEx Cup Playoffs. That’s been my focus the last week and a half, that’s what I’m here to do, I’m here to win the FedEx Cup Playoffs. And like I said, it will come from me, it won’t come from Cameron Percy.”

Smith, Niemann and Varner are currently under the age of 33 with Varner being the eldest. The East Carolina product is among fan favorites on a weekly basis and, equally as important, well-respected among his peers on the PGA Tour. While Varner doesn’t have a Tour victory, he has been close on a number of occasions and was victorious in dramatic fashion at the Saudi International in February.

Young in age but not necessarily experience, Niemann had been on the PGA Tour for five seasons, making his professional debut in the spring of 2018. Putting Chilean golf on the map, he becomes yet another international player jostled away from the PGA Tour.

With the Presidents Cup looming, International Team captain Trevor Immelman has been thrusted into an unenviable position. Losing two of his eight automatic qualifiers and a stable of his fellow countrymen to LIV, his task to defeat a heavily favored United States side becomes all the more difficult.

In the grand scheme of it all, the lack of allegiance from international players to the PGA Tour may be LIV Golf’s greatest calling card — in addition to the lucrative contracts — as it embarks on becoming a world tour. Material changes have been made to the PGA Tour schedule and tournaments in foreign countries may be — or at least should be — on the table for the future. However, with zero visits to South America, Africa or Australia since the 2001 WGC Match Play, it is conceivable to suggest those from outside the United States simply do not view the tour in the same light as their former counterparts.