Cameron Smith is already “a very cashed up bogan from Queensland” according to his coach Grant Field, having pocketed over $14m in prize money this year. But the working class hero world No 2 will earn around 10 times that amount now he has become the moustache-twirling villain of golf by officially joining the rival LIV Golf series.
The decision, fresh off his first major win at the Open in July, will appall traditionalists. Smith, 29, was closing on the No 1 ranking, a feat only three Australians have achieved, and has the game to rattle the history books. Instead he will risk his future and legacy, to tee up against lesser players on poorer courses on golf’s version of a gap year.
Greg Norman on Tuesday confirmed what has long been rumoured. Smith will turn his back on the PGA tour to join the rebel tour fronted by his fellow Australian Norman, LIV’s CEO and chief spruiker, and bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The move, Smith revealed to Golf Digest, was first and foremost a lifestyle decision. “The biggest thing for me joining is [LIV’s] schedule is really appealing,” Smith said. “I’ll be able to spend more time at home in Australia and maybe have an event down there as well. I haven’t been able to do that, and to get that part of my life back was really appealing.”
LIV is a classic more-for-less equation. LIV translates as 54 in Roman numerals and LIV players are required to play 54 holes over three rounds, not the PGA’s 72 holes over four. For Smith it means more time fishing for leatherjackets in Australia than hunting green jackets in Augusta, watching rugby league and fanging cars with his mates.
LIV’s heavily-truncated eight tournament schedule also allows Smith more time with family. Winning the Players Championship in March was the first time Smith had seen his mother Sharon and younger sister Mel in over two years. He suffered acute homesickness at the start of his Tour career in 2013 but settled in Ponte Vedra Beach, Jacksonville in 2015.
A reported $143m signing fee for joining LIV will turbocharge Smith’s lifestyle away from golf even more. Smith is proudly blue collar with all the hunger and ambition that comes with it. “[Money] was definitely a factor in making that decision, I won’t ignore that or say that wasn’t a reason,” he said. “It was a business decision, an offer I couldn’t ignore.”
LIV’s website trumpets its form of the game as “golf, but louder”. It’s a lolly scramble for players and agents. This week’s LIV Golf Invitational Boston, at which Smith will debut as a LIV player, has AU$36.2m up for grabs to be split among only 48 pros – AU$5.8m to the tournament winner and even the last-place-getter pocketing AU$174,000.
LIV also offers a “clubs” event where the tour’s 48 players split into 12 teams with names such as Crushers, Fireballs, Hy Flyers to compete for an additional $7.2m at each event. This could be an additional spur behind Smith’s LIV decision. He’s crazy about team sports, raised on Queensland Origin mania by a grandfather who was a champion bull rider.
Last month Smith was excitedly eyeing off next month’s Presidents Cup teams event at Quail Hollow, where he was an automatic selection for the International Team. But his LIV switch now rules him out (Smith’s Open win in July still secures him an annual invitation until the age of 60), and from Friday, he won’t earn world ranking points either.
Smith and fellow Australian Marc Leishman are both managed by Bud Martin, golf’s super agent. Their dual defection brings Norman’s zealous quest for an Australian team to contest the LIV’s “club” shoot-out a few steps closer to reality. Of the eight Australian LIV signings, Australian PGA champion Jediah Morgan and Wade Ormsby make a fighting four.
“LIV Golf is showing the world that our truly global league is attracting the world’s best players and will grow the game into the future for the next generation,” Norman crowed. Signing Smith and Leishman brings Norman’s lifelong dream firmly back into focus. He and Rupert Murdoch proposed a World Golf Tour in 1994 only for the PGA to squash it.
Now Norman has the world No 2 – and some measure of revenge on the PGA – the coup de gras will be to bring a LIV tournament to Australia, clearly something Smith is also craving. Despite golf’s state of flux, LIV players are still eligible for the Australian PGA at Royal Queensland in November and the Australian Open at the Victoria Golf Course in December.
“These two major Australian events headline the upcoming summer of golf, one of the biggest for years, and there’s no doubt our fans are looking forward to our growing line-up of homegrown stars like Cam Smith and Marc Leishman,” PGA Australia chair Rodger Davis said in a statement.
Norman revealed earlier this month that LIV is looking to hold an event in Australia in 2023 and has been scouting potential venues. Royal Queensland is where Smith first plied his trade as an amateur while Norman has history with The Australian golf course in Sydney. The question for these courses, as it was for Smith, remains: is the flak worth the cash?