It was an open secret, but Cameron Smith’s jump to the Golf LIV Series is now official: The world No. 2 and reigning British Open champion will play in the Arab league and make his debut this week outside of Boston. He was one of six new signings announced Tuesday, representing another blow to the PGA Tour, which continues to lose weight players.
The news is by no means a surprise. There have been multiple denials from Smith about a possible move to the Saudi-backed tour since he won at St. Andrews in July, but it seemed the Australian’s deal was sealed. He was also one of the few stars who did not attend the players’ meeting during the week of the BMW Championship, the second playoff of the FedEx Cup that ended up being won by Rory McIroy. Several foreign media also reported this past weekend that Smith would be announced as the new signing of LIV after the conclusion of the Tour Championship, and it was: the confirmation on social networks came with a welcome message.
The signing of Smith is perhaps the biggest impact of LIV Golf, the most resounding addition since its inception. While most of the players who have gone to Greg Norman’s league tend to be over 40, injury-prone or rank names, Smith has undoubtedly been one of the best on the road in 2022: before hoisting the Claret Jug at St. Andrews he claimed The Players title and finished third in the Masters. And what’s more important: Smith is only 29 years old and has several seasons left in his prime.
Along with Smith, who is leaving the PGA Tour and will take part this week at The International in Bolton, Massachusetts, are the Chilean Joaquín Niemann, the Australian Marc Leishman, the Americans Harold Varner III and Cameron Tringale and the Indian Anirban Lahiri. Tringale himself had announced that he would be moving to LIV via social media on Sunday. Niemann, who won the LAAC in 2018 in Chile, also breaks the stereotype of the thriving tour, as he is only 23 years old and coming off his most successful year on the PGA Tour, with a victory at the Genesis Invitational and five top 10 finishes. “I haven’t made my decision yet,” the trans-Andean had commented last Friday at the Tour Championship. “Obviously there are some things I have to see first, but I’m not thinking about that right now. I want to finish the playoffs and then see what my decision will be.”
Leishman, 38, is a six-time PGA Tour winner, his last win coming with Smith as a two-player team at the Zurich Classic in 2021. Lahiri, 35, is yet to win the PGA Tour, but he does have 18 overall wins and finished as runner-up to Smith at the Players Championship in March. He is also the highest ranked male professional golfer in India. Also, Varner III, 32, could be seen as a surprise, given that he had stated on multiple occasions that he was not going to LIV Golf. But he was the winner of the Saudi International in February and one of his good friends on tour, Bubba Watson, also joined LIV.
Not among the names is Mito Pereira, who was cited in a Golf Channel report as a possible LIV signing. But on Saturday afternoon, the 27-year-old Chilean posted a photo of himself in the International Presidents Cup team uniform on his Instagram account and declared how honored he was to play in the competition. Any LIV member cannot play in the PGA Tour’s Presidents Cup, which indicates, at least for the foreseeable future, that Pereira will remain on tour.
As soon as these six players get going on Friday at the tournament in Boston, they will be suspended by the PGA Tour. This means that Smith and Niemann – two of the eight automatically qualified for the international team – will not be able to participate in the Presidents Cup competition to be played in September at the Quail Hollow Club.
Last week in Atlanta, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced a series of changes to the tour’s schedule and structure in an attempt to prevent other tour members from being drawn into the LIV. He was then asked if LIV Golf members would be allowed back after the changes. “No,” Monahan said, adding, “They have joined the LIV Golf Series and made that commitment. Most of them have been engaged for several years. As I have made clear at all times, each player has a choice and I respect it, but they have made it. We have taken ours. We’re going to keep focusing on the things we control and getting stronger and stronger. I think they understand.” When asked if there was any chance of LIV Golf players returning to the tour, Monahan responded: “Remember, we’re on trial. We have been sued. I think talking about any hypothesis at this point doesn’t make much sense.”
Seven players, including Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour a few weeks ago, and LIV Golf joined the case last week. A tentative summary trial date has been set for July 23, 2023, where the tour will likely seek to dismiss the case, with a trial date expected to begin on January 8, 2024.