The First Coast’s PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions events won’t have their defending champions in the field the next time they play.
With the official decision by Players champion and Ponte Vedra Beach resident Cameron Smith on Tuesday to sign a contract with the LIV Golf Series, the Australian will presumably be suspended by the PGA Tour along with any other member who has played in a LIV Golf event when he tees it up later this week in Boston.
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The Tour said the suspensions are because the players, which include Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, did not receive the required release to play in an event outside the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf, financed by the Saudi Investment Fund, has lured players by offering a total purse of $255 million for eight 54-hole, no-cut events this year. The average purse has been $20 million, with $4 million to the winner.
Smith earned $3.6 million for winning The Players, the richest prize in professional golf before the LIV Series began.
LIV Golf plans to expand to 14 tournaments next year and more in 2024. There are two tournaments scheduled in the US this month, with another near Chicago to follow this week’s event.
Smith won The Players last March in dramatic fashion, firing a closing 66 and saving a bogey on the final hole to beat Anirban Lahiri by one shot.
Speaking of Lahiri — he’s gone, too. The No. 1 player from India joined Smith in bolting for LIV Golf, along with former First Coast resident Harold Varner III, Smith’s countryman Marc Leishman, Joaquin Niemann of Chile and Cameron Tringale.
Financial terms were not disclosed. The PGA Tour is currently trying to force disclosure of LIV Golf contracts in preliminary legal moves to defend an antitrust lawsuit being brought by seven former Tour members now playing with LIV Golf.
Smith joins Phil Mickelson as champions of First Coast events who won’t defend their titles. Mickelson won the Champions Tour’s Furyk & Friends last year at the Timuquana Country Club but went with LIV in the first wave of its signings of PGA Tour players in June.
Last week, when PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked if any players who had gone over to LIV Golf could ever return to the PGA Tour, he gave the shortest answer possible: “No.”
Losing Smith to the LIV Golf Series was the biggest blow to the PGA Tour so far. Tour supporters had been able to argue to this point that almost all of its former members who went to LIV Golf were past their prime (Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Johnson), noted malcontents (DeChambeau and Reed), or B-list players (Charles Howell III, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford).
Smith, however, is 29 years old, was the first player since Jack Nicklaus to win The Players and the British Open in the same year, was third on the FedEx Cup points list entering the second week of the playoffs and is ranked second in the world behind Scottie Scheffler.
Smith’s departure has been teased ever since won the Open at St. Andrews in July, came with no comment through LIV Golf. Speculation is that he would sign for a package of around $100 million.
He has earned a bit more than $27 million on the PGA Tour.
When he was reached by Golf Digest, Smith stated the obvious.
“[Money] was definitely a factor in making that decision, I won’t ignore that or say that wasn’t a reason,” Smith said. “It was obviously a business decision for one and an offer I couldn’t ignore.”
Smith also indicated that he could spend more time in his native country by playing less on the LIV Series.
“The biggest thing for me is joining [LIV’s] The schedule is really appealing,” Smith said. “I’ll be able to spend more time at home in Australia and maybe have an event down there, as well. I haven’t been able to do that and to get that part of my life back was really appealing.
“I’ve lived over here seven years now, and I love living in the US, but just little things like missing friends’ weddings, birthday parties and seeing your mates having a great time at rugby league games has been tough,” he said. .
Smith and Leishman have each won six PGA Tour events and Niemann two. Varner, Lahiri and Tringale have never won on the PGA Tour and Tringale holds a dubious mark: he’s won more money (just over $17.4 million) than any player in PGA Tour history without a victory.
Varner, Lahiri and Tringale have a combined 692 PGA Tour starts and more than $37 million in earnings.
LIV Golf will have six of the top-30 players on the world golf rankings when it plays at the International course this weekend in Bolton, Mass.
Smith’s pending suspension will continue the streak of no repeat champions in The Players. He’s also the fifth Players Champion to join LIV Golf, along with Mickelson, Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson.
Golfweek.com contributed to this report.
Contact Garry Smits at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GSmitter