BOLTON — For a golfer ranked No. 2 in the world to create such a seismic shift in the sport’s landscape by deciding to become the latest player to leave the PGA Tour for the controversial upstart LIV Golf, Cameron Smith had a relatively calm Tuesday when word of his defection became official.
“It was a pretty cruisy day, to be honest,” the 29-year-old Australian said.
He flew into New England that morning. He spent some time getting familiar with The International ahead of his debut at the LIV Golf Invitational Boston. He’s not big on social media, so he didn’t feel the weight of the reaction to yet another player leaving the PGA Tour. He grabbed dinner with his father and a friend.
The first phone call he made was to his mother. The most obvious reason behind Smith’s decision would be the reported $140 million Australian dollars that LIV Golf paid to have one of golf’s young stars anchor its roster. But like many of the players before him who faced the same difficult choice, the money came along with a world of other considerations. And when Smith talked to his mother, one of those reasons became even clearer.
“I called my mom first. I haven’t been able to see her very often,” he said. “She was just pumped that I can come home, to be honest. Spending a longer period of time at home, being able to have Christmas at home, yeah, it’s going to be awesome. My friends and family, they were right behind the decision. They love it. They think it’s exciting as well. Apart from the golf bit, just having me back home, they were pretty pumped about it.”
That was enough for Smith to be resolute in his decision. Smith said there wasn’t much the PGA Tour could have done to get him to stay. Along with the lucrative signing bonus, playing for LIV Golf afforded him luxuries the PGA Tour couldn’t.
“I think for me, the biggest attraction was spending more time at home or getting that part of my life back,” Smith said. “It’s something that I’ve really missed. I think then obviously the pandemic that we’ve had over the last couple of years didn’t really help out, but for me to be able to go home, see my family and play golf there more often that was a really big up for me.”
The decision comes at a price. It was one he was willing to pay. Just last month, Smith walked away with his first major, playing as close to flawless as possible in the final round of the British Open and solidifying himself among the Tour’s talented young faces.
It crossed his mind that leaving the Tour meant that he would not be playing among some of the top names in the sport. (“Perhaps a little bit,” he said). But Smith saw it less as an opportunity lost and more as a chance to forge a new path.
“I think this is the future of golf,” he said. “I think it needs to change particularly as our golf fans become younger I think we need to do something to make it exciting for them. I think it was the right move, for sure. I think not having those top guys is a little bit of a shame, but hopefully, I can see them four times a year and be able to compete against them and show I’ve still got it.”
There’s also the matter of Official World Golf Ranking points, which LIV Golf cannot currently offer its players. LIV applied to the OWGR board to be included in its rankings last month. The OWGR is one factor used for eligibility into golf’s four major championships. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is on the OWGR board of governors.
“I think it’s really a shame that we’re not getting world ranking points out here,” Smith said. “I think to have 48 of the best guys around the world playing and not to get world ranking points, I think, is perhaps a little bit unfair. It’s still so competitive. I just really think it’s a little bit unfair.”
Because of his British Open win, however, Smith doesn’t have to worry about being able to play in the major tournaments the way some of his other LIV Golf colleagues will. His win earned him an exemption for five years. But it’s an issue he hopes to see resolved.
“I think to the fans of major championship golf, it may be a little bit unfair,” Smith said. “And then I think the majors is about having the best guys in the best field on the best golf courses. Hopefully, we can sort that out.”
But with all the factors weighing into his decision, Smith came away feeling as if he made the one that was best for him.
“I’m just really excited to be here,” Smith said. “This is a new kind of chapter in my life. I think this is the future of golf. I love how it is out here.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.