[PHOTO: Ben Jared]
The realisation hit Billy Horschel coming down the 18th hole at East Lake Golf Club. With reports swirling that world No.2 Cameron Smith will probably headline multiple golfers joining LIV Golf this week, Horschel had to collect himself while playing the final hole today with the Australian star at the Tour Championship.
“I don’t know if he’s going or not, but understanding that this could be my last round with him on the PGA Tour, it was a little emotional,” Horschel said after a 69 that left the PGA Tour veteran at eight-under par, one shot ahead of Smith. “I’ve known him for so long. I think the world of the guy. I am going to miss him if he decides to go, because I won’t see him nearly as much as I do out on tour.”
Despite a six-year age difference, Smith and Horschel are close friends and neighbours in the Ponte Vedra Beach area. The morning after Smith arrived home in Florida from Scotland having won the Open Championship at St Andrews, the pair entered a fishing competition and drank beers out of the claret jug.
Smith has been named in several reports as joining the cashed-up rival league alongside fellow Australian Marc Leishman, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and Harold Varner III. On Sunday morning, US time, Cameron Tringale confirmed his decision to join LIV via social media.
LIV Golf has already poached Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, but Smith would be their biggest signing to date. He’s the highest-ranked player who would jump to LIV and is playing the best golf of his life after turning 29 earlier this month. Before The Open in July, Smith had won the PGA Tour’s flagship event, the Players Championship, in March, as well as the elite Sentry Tournament of Champions in January. He has six PGA Tour titles and two Australian PGA Championships to his name.
“It would be the biggest loss [to the PGA Tour] in my mind,” Horschel, 35, said. “If you look at his age and what he’s accomplished in star-studded events, and you look at the person he is. He’s a great kid. He represents himself very well.
“He’s won The Open, and he has the game to win every other Major. A lot of the Australians want to win at Augusta and he’s he’d had a lot of success [three top-five results] at Augusta. Whether he goes or not, hopefully he has the ability to play [the Masters], but I’m not the one making those decisions.”
Horschel, who won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when the bonus for the season-long trophy was $US10 million, has been a vocal supporter of the PGA Tour. He said he’d had discussions with Smith about the LIV reports but did not try to convince Smith to say.
“I don’t sell anyone on anything; I try to tell them how much I appreciate them as people and as players, and how much I’d love for them to stay and compete on the PGA Tour,” Horschel said. “Whatever he decides, I’ll support him and have his back. We’re going to see each other at home. We’re still going to go fishing.”