With his mullet and his offseason longer than they’ve ever been, Cameron Smith cut a relaxed figure as he sat in the press conference Wednesday at the Saudi International.
The Florida-based Australian had the air of someone who had gotten exactly what he had craved for years: some extended downtime in his homeland with family and friends. That, and a large, guaranteed-money contract, were the reasons why the reigning Open champion left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf last year.
The 29-year-old spent most of LIV’s October through January break in his hometown of Brisbane, showing off the Open’s claret jug to family, friends and fans. There was fishing, traveling, introducing his American girlfriend Shanel to extended family and a bit of social golf.
There were also business calls. Lots of them. As a captain of one of LIV’s 12 teams, Smith was tasked with organizing his side for LIV’s sophomore season. Last year, Smith’s all-Australian team was called Punch GC. But with LIV ramping up its franchise model to try and resemble Formula 1 racing, Smith had to navigate changing the team’s name (which he confirmed would be announced soon) and adding a reserve player to his four-man squad. There is also expected to be several players changing teams across all LIV’s franchises.
“I guess it was an offseason for [competitive] golf, but it seemed I was on the phone every day talking about something to do with the team,” Smith said. “It’s been really exciting. It’s been a little bit different and something that I’m not really used to. But I feel as though the longer it progresses, the more I’m getting used to it.”
Smith makes 2023 debut at the Saudi International, the Asian Tour season opener which is sponsored by the primary backer of LIV Golf, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. It’s held at Royal Greens Golf club an hour north of Jeddah, where Smith tied fourth a year ago. After that, LIV’s season opener will take place late later this month at the Mayakoba Resort in Mexico, a former host of a PGA Tour event in the fall.
“I can’t wait for us to start up in Mexico. I think we’ll have a great year, and for sure looking forward to that event in Adelaide,” Smith said of LIV’s late April event in Australia, one of five overseas events in 2023. “I think it’ll be a ripping tournament.”
Smith laconic disposition morphed into an honest laugh when asked how he could top his breakout 2022 season. Smith won three PGA Tour events—among them the Open at St. Andrews and the Players Championship—as well as LIV’s Chicago stop after he joined the rival circuit in August. He ended the year by winning one of two DP World Tour-sanctioned events Down Under, the Australian PGA Championship.
“I think probably 2022 will be a really tough one to back up,” Smith said with a grin. “But I’m going to try. I’m keeping the same processes going [practice, training and physiotherapy routines]. Digging deep and working hard on my game at home I think is really what I’ve got to do. It’s really easy when you’re playing good golf to be complacent.”
What exactly a satisfactory encore to 2022 would like look is unclear. Smith admitted he is “not really a massive goal setter.” But one thing he does know is that he does not want to part ways with the claret jug come July when the Open goes to Royal Liverpool.
“It’s a really good reminder [of what he’s capable of],” Smith said, having overcome a four-shot final round deficit to Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland at the 150th Open. “I don’t want to let that thing go. It’s so cool. The look it brings to people’s faces and the feeling that it gives them is pretty special. It motivates you to be a better golfer.”
One way to validate his career-best year is to add a second major. Many feel Smith’s best chance of doing so is at the Masters, where he played in the final group with eventual winner Scottie Scheffler last year, sharing third behind the Texan. He also finished tied for second to Dustin Johnson in 2020 and has two other top-10s at Augusta.
A goal Smith has set previously, but is unlikely to tick off in the near future, is getting to World No. 1. He. could have done so with a victory at the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs opener last August. Now on LIV, Smith and his fellow members don’t receive Official World Golf Rankings points given their 54-hole events have fields of 48 players with no 36-hole cut.
“I’ve tried to take it [on the chin] but it hurts, for sure,” Smith said. “I was really close to getting to No. 1 [in Memphis] and that was definitely something I wanted to tick off. The longer this stuff goes on [waiting for a decision by the OWGR on awarding them points], I think the more obsolete those rankings become.
“Do we need them [points]? It’d be nice, but … when you rock up to a tournament, you know who you have to beat; there’s generally seven or eight guys in that field who’ll put up a pretty good fight. You know that, whether there’s a World Ranking or not.”