Cameron Smith, Winner of This Year’s British Open, Joins LIV Golf

Cameron Smith, the world’s second-ranked golfer and a player whose exceptional final-round putting carried him to this year’s British Open title, will join LIV Golf, the breakaway series financed with money from Saudi Arabia.

Smith is expected to play in LIV’s next 54-hole, no-cut tournament, which will begin Friday in Bolton, Mass., west of Boston. Five other players — Anirban Lahiri, Marc Leishman, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Tringale and Harold Varner III — will also join a LIV field for the first time, the series announced on Tuesday.

The moves by the players were widely expected but still bruised the PGA Tour, which has spent months trying to devise ways to keep players in its establishment fold. Last week, Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, announced changes, including purses averaging $20 million at a dozen events next season, that executives hoped would better position the tour to compete with the allure of LIV, which has enticed players with more relaxed schedules and, in some instances, contracts reportedly worth at least $100 million.

Smith, a 29-year-old from Australia who also won this year’s Players Championship, was a leading target for the series, which is underwritten by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The possibility of a Smith defection was such an open secret that a reporter asked Smith about it soon after he won the Open, where he shot an eight-under-par 64 on a Sunday to rally from a four-stroke deficit.

“I just won the British Open, and you’re asking about that?” Smith said at a news conference then. “I think that’s pretty not that good.”

A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

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A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

A new series. The debut of the new Saudi-financed LIV Golf series has resurfaced longstanding questions about athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money. Here’s what to know:

A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

What is LIV Golf? The series is an upstart professional golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the highest level of pro golf for nearly a century.

A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

Why is the new series controversial? The event has created sparks within golf for upending the traditions and strictures of how the game is played. It has also become a lightning rod for human rights campaigners who accuse Saudi Arabia of using sports to launder its reputation.

A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

Who is playing it? Many of the biggest names in golf, such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away from LIV Golf. But several big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García, joined. Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who was supposed to lead Europe’s team at the 2023 Ryder Cup, was removed as captain after announcing his move to the series.

A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

What is attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The first tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That is on top of the appearance fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.

A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

How has the PGA Tour responded to the rise of LIV Golf? The PGA Tour suspended several PGA Tour members among the LIV Golf players after it denied them releases to participate in other events. The Justice Department later announced that it was investigating the PGA Tour for anticompetitive behavior. Eleven golfers affiliated with LIV Golf have also filed an antitrust lawsuit against the organization.

Pressed, Smith added: “I don’t know, mate. My team around me worries about all that stuff. I’m here to win golf tournaments.”

Rory McIlroy, one of the PGA Tour’s fiercest supporters and the man whose final-round ambitions Smith had patiently eroded at St. Andrews, spoke with Smith two days after the tournament.

“Guys that are thinking one way or another, honestly, I don’t care if they leave or not,” McIlroy recounted last week in Atlanta, where he was for the Tour Championship that he would go on to win. “It’s not going to make a difference to me. But I would at least like people to make a decision that is completely informed and basically know: ‘This is what’s coming down the pipeline. This is what you may be leaving behind.’”

But in the weeks after the British Open and the exchange with McIlroy, Smith did not deny a report in The Telegraph, the London newspaper, that he intended to play for LIV in exchange for at least $100 million.

Smith is only the latest major tournament winner to sign with LIV Golf, which has drawn scrutiny because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and the field in Bolton is expected to include Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka.

“LIV Golf is showing the world that our truly global league is attracting the world’s best players and will grow the game into the future for the next generation,” Greg Norman, the two-time British Open winner and LIV’s chief executive, said in a statement on Tuesday. “The best and the brightest continue to embrace the excitement and energy of LIV Golf and what we’re building: a tangible league for team golf that will connect with new audiences all over the globe.”

Although Smith was the headliner of Tuesday’s signing class, the five other golfers added to LIV’s roster have sometimes been formidable.

Lahiri, a member of two Olympic teams, has long been among India’s best golfers and finished in a tie for fifth at the P.G.A. Championship in 2015. That same year, Leishman tied for second at the British Open at St. Andrews after a playoff.

Niemann turned professional in 2018 and has already amassed more than $14.5 million in career earnings, partly as a result of a wire-to-wire victory at the Genesis Invitational in February. Varner, who has been one of the few Black golfers on the PGA Tour, has 16 career top-10 tour finishes.

Tringale played 29 tour events this past season, winning just more than $3 million, but he has never fared better in a major tournament than a tie for 14th.

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