Smith, Leishman amongst latest LIV Golf recruits
The rumours have been swirling ever since the Open Championship in July and now LIV Golf has confirmed the latest six players to have joined the rebel tour.
The list is headlined by World No. 2 Cameron Smith along with World No.19 Joaquin Niemann, Marc Leishman, Harold Varner III, Cameron Tringale and India’s Anirban Lahiri.
The latest round of defections means the breakaway league now has six of the top 30 players on the world rankings ahead of its fourth event, which tees off this Friday in Boston.
Smith’s move will come as a blow to the PGA Tour. The Australian has enjoyed an incredible season of golf, winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Players Championship and the 150th Open Championship along with a third place at the Masters in a year that included 7 top-10 results and US$10 million in prize money.
Unless something changes drastically in the coming months, Smith will be unable to defend his wins due to a PGA Tour ban and there is a very strong chance the R&A will also stop LIV Golf players from competing in the Open Championship from 2023.
A more immediate headache for golfing administrators is next month’s Presidents Cup. Smith is the top-ranked player on the International team and Joaquin Niemann is ranked 4th behind Hideki Matsuyama and Sungjae Im. With the Presidents Cup owned by the PGA Tour, it seems unlikely that the duo will be teeing it up at Quail Hollow.
Cameron Smith celebrates following his win at the 150th Open Championship (Credit: R&A)
However, with just four weeks left until the tournament, the Tour may have to relent on this occasion for the good of all concerned. It would be an empty victory for Team USA if two of the best International team members go missing.
So was it all worth it for Smith? When asked by Golf Digest whether the move was all about the money (rumoured to be north of US$100m), the Queenslander was refreshingly upfront.
“I won’t ignore that or say that wasn’t a reason. It was obviously a business decision for one and an offer I couldn’t ignore,” Smith told Golf Digest in a phone interview.
“The biggest thing for me joining is [the] schedule is really appealing. 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.”
“I’ve lived over here seven years now, and I love living in the US, but just little things like missing friends’ weddings, birthday parties and seeing your mates having a great time at rugby league games has been tough.”
Smith’s remarks, while vacuous to some, should be taken at face value. Americans are able to play in their own country the entire year while the rest of the world’s players are forced to move to the US if they want to earn a decent living playing the game they love.
Both the European and Australasian tours have been decimated over the years with players having no option but to create an entirely new life on the other side of the world. On top of that, PGA Tour rules require a certain number of tournaments are played each year meaning that downtime between events is rare.
While the fallout from LIV Golf is uncertain, both Smith and Marc Leishman have already committed to returning home later this year for the Australian PGA Championship and Australian Open in what is hopefully a good sign for the future of golf in this country.