This content is for subscribers only.
Join our club! Become a subscriber to get access to the latest issue of Australian Golf Digest, plus exclusive content and videos only available with a digital subscription.
LIV Golf Adelaide: Split Decision - Australian Golf Digest LIV Golf Adelaide: Split Decision - Australian Golf Digest

Two weeks separate the Masters and LIV Golf Adelaide. For Cameron Smith, it’s the perfect platform for a shot at history. 

Eight years ago, when Cameron Smith made his Masters debut as a starry-eyed 22-year-old, he wasn’t the only one making their first appearance at Augusta National. The marketing gurus behind the scenes at golf’s most famous tournament created yet another home run in the merchandise tent: a Masters-themed garden gnome.

Predictably, the gnomes were a massive hit with the “patrons” lucky enough to attend the tournament. They even appeared on the secondhand market on eBay, of course with inflated prices. Smith didn’t know the gnomes were also on debut; the Queenslander just thought they looked cool. Since then, a new edition of the gnome has been offered each year with the character dressed in different outfits. In 2022, the gnomes were out of stock on Monday of Masters week – six full days before the final round.  

The gnomes are among the many reasons why Smith looks forward to each Masters. Just like his results at the year’s first major, they’ve evolved. Gnomes started out in 2016 as looking almost Scottish with a green, Argyle-pattern sweater vest and peaked cap when Smith finished T-55 in his first outing. In 2018, when Smith was T-5, the gnomes were a little more experienced, looking like an old Augusta caddie in the white overalls with “18” on the breast pocket where the caddie registration number would be in real life. In 2020, when the Masters was held in November due to COVID-19, the gnome was dressed in a red, ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ and loud green pants. Smith finished equal second behind Dustin Johnson. Two years later, after Smith’s T-10 in 2021, he was in the final group with eventual winner Scottie Scheffler and tied for third. The 2022 gnome was dressed like a volunteer, with a Masters-green golf shirt tucked into khaki shorts and wearing a badge-laden bucket hat. While Smith didn’t win that year at Augusta, he went on to claim the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews in July for his maiden major title.

“I don’t know why I have a fascination with them,” Smith tells Australian Golf Digest. “In 2016, it was one of the first things I was drawn to in the merchandise store. It’s just an item I’ve always kept up with and I’ve got one from every Masters I’ve played. They sit on my front steps at home and a lot of people are really confused the first time they come round to my house. They have no idea what they are and why they’re there. It’s a cool collection that I’ll keep going with.”

There’s also the actual competition that Smith relishes about the Masters. He is not afraid of big moments, as his 64 in the final round of the 150th Open at St Andrews and 2022 Players Championship victory showed. The Brisbane golfer is tailor-made for the Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones-designed Augusta National layout. Not in the way that tour pros who bomb it long and straight are suited to Augusta, but in the way that he has the imagination, short game and putting nerve required to contend consistently. The wide fairways at Augusta National allow Smith’s Achilles heel, an occasionally wayward driver (he is near the bottom of the LIV Golf League in the driving distance and accuracy categories), to be less exposed. That allows his superb iron play, world-beating ability from inside 100 yards and generational putting to shine. Great wedge players have an advantage at Augusta because it takes the pressure off going for every par 5 in two, which, as has happened on plenty of Sundays in April over the years, invites trouble.

“I feel like I’m starting to make some strides with the longer stuff as far as my driver goes,” Smith says. “But I’ve always felt really comfortable around Augusta, so I’m not really too stressed about really getting that honed in. But particularly the other two majors after that in the PGA and US Open, you’re really going to have to hit the ball straight off the tee. I just need to get a few more putts at birdie, which is what I did at St Andrews, and when I did that last year I played really well at the PGA (T-9) and US Open (fourth).”

Smith finished a disappointing T-34 at last year’s Masters, although he did not face a lot of competition leading in. LIV held just three tournaments before Augusta, while Smith also played an Asian Tour event in Saudi Arabia. The counter to that is Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson played the same number of LIV events as Smith and both tied for second behind Jon Rahm at Augusta. But for Smith, his preparation was disrupted significantly as the six-time PGA Tour winner would play between five and seven full-field PGA Tour events between January and the Masters. He was also banned from TPC Sawgrass, his usual place of practice in Florida. Smith is now a member of another Jacksonville/Ponte Vedra-area club.

“Last year, I was probably lacking a little bit of competition,” Smith says. “This year we’ve got five events before Augusta. We’ve also got a nice break [of three weeks between LIV Golf Hong Kong] and Miami, and then LIV Miami and the Masters in two straight weeks. It’s a nice way to really prepare for the first major of the year.” 

Smith began to play well after the Masters, recording LIV victories in England and New Jersey as well as those two top 10s at the majors. So, what are Smith’s expectations for the 2024 Masters schedule now his LIV calendar is a little meatier leading in?

“Absolutely to win it,” Smith says. “I feel like I didn’t play that bad last year. We got a little unlucky with the [groupings and tee-times] and played a lot of holes on that Friday and Saturday in the cold and rain. I think we were among the groups who spent the longest [time in that abysmal weather that prompted Tiger Woods to withdraw despite making the 36-hole cut]. It was hard to really get a gauge of how I really played. Overall, Augusta National is still a place I love and a place where I play well at a lot. I really am excited to get back there and give it a shot.”

Smith is aiming to join a small group of legends to have won the Open at St Andrews and the Masters. That group includes Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Zach Johnson. Smith is also one of six Australians invited to the 2024 Masters (at the time of writing). He will join 2013 winner Adam Scott, as well as Jason Day, Cam Davis, Min Woo Lee and amateur Jasper Stubbs, who won Augusta National’s Asia-Pacific Amateur event at Royal Melbourne in October.

The second April major
After the Masters, Smith and his LIV peers will take a full week off before heading Down Under for a golf tournament that, in its first year, rivalled any individual strokeplay tournament in the world in 2023: LIV Golf Adelaide at The Grange Golf Club. Adelaide will be followed by LIV Golf Singapore. 

Last year, more than 75,000 fans attended the three-day tournament in South Australia, a festival that included a set from famous DJ Fisher and where the younger Koepka brother, Chase, made a hole-in-one in the final round at the event’s designated party hole. The celebration scenes went viral around the world. Smith tied for third, four shots behind Talor Gooch, who grabbed one of his three LIV victories in 2023.

A year on, Smith dreams of doing “the April double”: winning the Masters green jacket and LIV Golf Adelaide. 

“The Masters and LIV Adelaide are two tournaments that I personally – and definitely the Rippers [for Adelaide] – want to play well in,” he says. “It’s great that we’re playing a bit more and then we’ve got a little bit of lead time there to really hone what we need to work on before Adelaide, so it’s perfect.”

Given that Smith is an Open champion, he was asked to rank his favourite tournaments. He owns a claret jug but has four top-10s at the Masters, including a runner-up. Then there’s the event LIV Golf built in his home country as an incentive to get his signature in 2022.

“It’s hard to gauge, to be honest,” Smith says. “I love all the majors. They’re hard to separate. I think having all the best guys there, competing against each other… It’s a real competitive environment, something that I love. Although I do think Adelaide was the best solo tournament that I have ever played. Just the emotion of the Australian fans really got to me. I want to play events like [Adelaide] every week.”

LIV Golf Adelaide proved the league was onto something when it comes to new-age golf tournaments. Take them to markets that have been starved of golf, love sport and have a long history of major winners and star tour pros. Make sure those host countries are known for enjoying a party, have good infrastructure and golf courses ready to host tournaments with only a few months’ notice. For the 2024 season, LIV Golf Adelaide will be among the eight tournaments held outside the US.

“The international [side of LIV] has probably progressed a little bit faster than the US,” Smith says. “[To have more like Adelaide] you need to go to those markets where people are really keen to see good golf and have a good time, too. Australia’s just the perfect spot for that.” 

Getty images: Keyur Khamar, Christian Petersen, Mark Brake