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Top Golf Newsmakers of 2022: The Major Champion Who Left for LIV Golf

Golf Monthly

Who He Is: LIV Golf member, 2022 British Open champion

SI Golf Rank: 9 (Bob Harig), 3 (Gabby Herzig), 8 (Alex Miceli), 7 (Jeff Ritter), 6 (John Schwarb)

Why He’s Here: Cam Smith, the mullet-bearing 29-year-old from Australia, stunned the golf world in late August when it was announced that he would be joining Saudi-backed LIV Golf. The news came just a month after Smith secured his first major championship victory at the 150th British Open at St. Andrews—outlasting a run at the title from the PGA Tour’s de-facto spokesperson, Rory McIlroy. It was all too fitting.

At the Old Course, rumors of Smith joining LIV started to gain some serious momentum. The six-time PGA Tour winner had been linked to the fledgling league previously. He played in the Saudi International, and with fellow Australian Greg Norman as the frontman of the circuit, Aussies were seen joining left and right. But it was an awkward response to an eager reporter at his winner’s press conference that gave the strongest hint of defection.

“I just won the British Open, and you’re asking about that. I think that’s pretty … not that good,” Smith said. “I don’t know, mate. My team around me worries about all that stuff. I’m here to win golf tournaments.”

The response sounded eerily familiar, and the narrative around Smith’s victory started to shift. Smith had put together a historic season up until that moment. He kicked off the calendar year with a Sentry Tournament of Champions win, then claimed $3.6 million—the PGA Tour’s biggest payout—when he won The Players Championship, and came in tied for third at the Masters. At this high point in his career, a LIV acquisition of Smith would break the mold: Other LIV Golf members were largely removed from their prime. Smith was in the midst of it—he had just won his first major championship.

Smith’s departure from the PGA Tour was all but solidified during the FedEx Cup Playoffs when Cameron Percy, another Aussie golfer, told the media that Smith was “gone,” along with Marc Leishman. Speaking at the FedEx St. Jude press conference, Smith did not confirm nor deny his looming decision: “If there’s something I need to say regarding the PGA Tour or LIV, it will come from Cameron Smith, not Cameron Percy.”

And sure enough, the highly anticipated news release came on Aug. 30: Smith, who was No. 2 on the Official Golf World Ranking at the time, would tee it up in the LIV International Series in Boston. The Saudi-backed league may have recruited an inconsistent Dustin Johnson and fan-favorite 52-year-old Phil Mickleson, but Smith was on his way to becoming the best player in the world and the PGA Tour couldn’t hold on to him. As a LIV member, Smith went on to win the LIV Golf Invitational Chicago, as well as the Australian PGA Championship back on his home turf.

2023 Outlook: Now that Augusta National announced their decision to allow LIV golfers to play in the 2023 Masters, it’s safe to say that Smith will be one to watch. Beyond that, Smith will be playing as a member of the Punch GC team throughout the LIV season, which is currently being finalized. As for the other major championships, the various governing bodies will likely make decisions similar to Augusta’s, but nothing is for certain except that Smith will be at Royal Liverpool to try to win another Claret Jug. 

Source : Sports Illustrated