Cameron Smith lays out ‘business’ case but LIV Golf defection casts cloud over legacy | Angus Fontaine

CAccording to his trainer Grant Field, ameron Smith is already a “highly paid Queensland bogan” and has won over $14 million in prize money this year. But the world’s No. 2 working-class hero will be earning about 10 times as much now that he’s officially joined the rival LIV Golf Series and become golf’s mustache-twirling villain.

The decision, fresh from his first major win at the Open in July, will spook traditionalists. Smith, 29, was closing in on the No.1 ranking, a feat achieved by only three Australians, and has the game to shake up the history books. Instead, he will be risking his future and legacy to compete against lesser players on poorer courses in golf’s version of a gap year.

Greg Norman confirmed what had been long rumored on Tuesday. Smith will turn his back on the PGA Tour to join the Rebel Tour led by fellow Australian Norman, LIV’s chief executive and chief spruiker, and funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

The move, Smith revealed to Golf Digest, was primarily a lifestyle decision. “The biggest thing for me is the connection [LIV’s] the schedule is really appealing,” Smith said. “I will be able to spend more time at home in Australia and maybe do an event there as well. I couldn’t do that and getting that part of my life back was really appealing.”

LIV is the classic equation of more for less. LIV translates to 54 in Roman numerals, and LIV players must play 54 holes over three rounds, not the PGA’s 72 holes over four. For Smith, that means more time hunting leather jackets in Australia than hunting green jackets in Augusta, watching rugby league and tinkering with cars with his mates.

LIV Smith’s significantly shortened eight-tournament schedule also allows more time with his family. Winning the Players Championship in March was the first time Smith had seen his mother Sharon and younger sister Mel in more than two years. He suffered acute homesickness early in his Tour career in 2013, but settled in Jacksonville’s Ponte Vedra Beach in 2015.

The reported $143 million fee to join LIV will further enliven Smith’s lifestyle away from golf. Smith is proudly blue collar with all the hunger and ambition that comes with it. “[Money] was definitely a factor in the decision, I’m not going to ignore it or say it wasn’t a reason,” he said. “It was a business decision, an offer I couldn’t ignore.

The LIV website advertises its form of the game as “golf, but louder”. It’s a lollipop for players and agents. This week at the LIV Golf Invitational Boston, where Smith will make his LIV debut, AU$36.2 million is up for grabs to be shared among just 48 professionals – AU$5.8 million for the tournament winner and even the one who in last place he gets AU$174,000.

LIV also offers a “club” event where the 48 players on the tour are split into 12 teams with names like Crushers, Fireballs, Hy Flyers to compete for an additional $7.2 million in each tournament. That could be another incentive behind Smith’s decision to LIV. He’s a team sports nut, raised in Queensland Origin mania by a grandfather who was a champion bull rider.

Last month, Smith excitedly watched next month’s Presidents Cup team action at Quail Hollow, where he was automatically selected for the international team. But his LIV switch now rules him out (July’s Smith’s Open win still secures him an annual under-60 invite) and he won’t even earn world ranking points from Friday.

Smith and Australian Marc Leishman are both managed by Bud Martin, golf’s super agent. Their double defection brings Norman’s fervent search for an Australian team to take on LIV’s “club” shootout a few steps closer to reality. Of LIV’s eight Australian signings, Australian PGA Champion Jediah Morgan and Wade Ormsby make up the fighting four.

“LIV Golf is showing the world that our truly global league is attracting the world’s best players and expanding the game into the future for the next generation,” crowed Norman. Signing Smith and Leishman brings Norman’s lifelong dream back into focus. He and Rupert Murdoch designed the World Golf Tour in 1994 only for the PGA to squash it.

Now Norman has a world No. 2 ranking – and a measure of payback at the PGA – the coup de gras will bring the LIV tournament to Australia, something Smith is clearly keen on as well. Despite golf’s evolution, LIV players are still eligible for the Australian PGA at Royal Queensland in November and the Australian Open at Victoria Golf Course in December.

“These two major Australian events headline the coming summer of golf, one of the biggest in years, and there’s no doubt our fans are looking forward to our growing line-up of home-grown stars such as Cam Smith and Marc Leishman,” PGA Australia Chairman Rodger Davis said in a statement.

Norman revealed earlier this month that LIV was looking to stage an event in Australia in 2023 and was looking at potential venues. Royal Queensland is where Smith first ventured into business as an amateur, while Norman has a history with the Australian golf course in Sydney. The question for these courses, as for Smith, remains: is flak worth the money?

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