Greg Norman has hailed the Saudi-funded circuit’s audacious £100m acquisition of world No 2 Cam Smith – as well as that of Joaquin Niemann, the youngest player in the world’s top 20 – as proof that “it really world championship attracts the best players in the game.”
Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed two weeks ago that Smith, 29, will join LIV Golf just a month after becoming a St Andrews hero when he prevailed in the 150th edition of the British major. The news stunned the sport, with the Australian refusing to deny the story and instead stating, “I’m ready to take a little bit.”
Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman who the Queensland golfer denied at the Home of Golf, admitted he phoned Smith in an attempt to persuade him to stay, but to no avail as Norman claimed what could be considered the LIV’s most valuable recruit to date. .
“Money was definitely a factor in making that decision – I’m not going to ignore it or say it wasn’t a factor,” Smith told Australian Golf Digest. “It was obviously a business decision for one and an offer I couldn’t ignore.
“[But] the biggest thing for me to join is [LIV’s] schedule… I’ll be able to spend more time at home in Australia and maybe even do an event down there. I couldn’t get that part of my life back and it was really appealing.”
While Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau arguably have bigger profiles than Smith, none of those quartet were considered at the top of their game when they signed their nine-figure deals.
Smith will play in LIV’s fourth £20m event in Boston this week – meaning the 48-man field will have won 12 of the last 24 majors – and will face an indefinite PGA Tour ban when his first tee it’s on air. the manufacture. It will be a humbling moment for the US circuit as Smith won The Players Championship, their flagship event, in March. Indeed, with Anirban Lahiri and Harold Varner III also in this latest LIV batch, it means three of Sawgrass’ top six have jumped this week.
Smith’s arrest will surely calm critics who claim that LIV is for the haves. Niemann apparently falls into a similar category, and his move may be even more concerning for Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who invited the Chilean to the already infamous emergency players’ meeting in Delaware two weeks ago.
There were 23 elite golfers at the summit – minus Smith, who chose to stay away – where Woods and McIlroy unveiled their plan to protect the tour’s future, with the PGA Tour acting quickly on their proposals and last week to announce another $100 million in prize money and incentives.
McIlroy claimed that “every player in the room agreed with the vision that me and Tiger have come up with,” but Niemann was clearly the exception.
Despite extensive lobbying, the 23-year-old has risked his important future by making the controversial switch and the focus will now fall on the influence of Sergio Garcia, somewhat of a mentor to the world No 19, as well as agency GSE Worldwide which , as well as Garcia and Niemann, have eight other LIV players on their books, including Paul Casey and Louis Oosthuizen.
There were four other names in the 48-man field – Americans Varner and Cameron Tringale, another Australian in Mark Leishman and Lahiri. The latter is yet another major signing, easily being the best player from India.
LIV can now claim to have top golfers from Australia, South Africa, India, Chile and Mexico, lending credence to Norman’s claim that the tour is now “truly global”. In unveiling the 12 new “extended purse” events for 2023, the PGA Tour admitted that all will be hosted in the US, as will the four $20 million events – the details of which have yet to be confirmed.
Expect Norman to do a lot of LIV taking control of the southern hemisphere as he continues his pursuit of Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. Tour commissioner Jay Monaghan will be deeply relieved that Matsuyama, at least for now, has stayed despite being offered more than £300m. And so will Trevor Immelman.
The South African captains the Internationals team that plays the USA in the Presidents Cup next month in North Carolina. Immelman’s team has been decimated by LIV, with Smith and Niemann joining Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer as defectors who almost certainly would have ruined it at Quail Hollow. The PGA Tour owns the Ryder Cup-lite competition and any player disqualified is ineligible.
A fortnight ago, Smith was either clueless or delusional when he answered a question about whether he would play in Charlotte. “Absolutely, yes,” he replied. “This is something we’ve been looking forward to for the last three years.” This does the fame of the popular “Mullet Man” no favors at all.