When golf fans look back on Cameron Smith’s whirlwind 2022 season, they’ll remember two main points: first, he won. A lot – five times worldwide, including his first Major during the historic 150th Open at St Andrews. Second, as he continued to ascend to the elite echelon of the game, the 29-year-old Aussie decided to join LIV Golf, becoming the best active player to turn away from the game’s traditional destinations of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour in place of the ambitious upstart.
The thing about Smith’s victories was that they each had their own flare. In January, he won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii by setting a PGA Tour scoring record of 34-under par, beating then world No.1 Jon Rahm by a shot. A little more than two months later at the Players Championship, he had eight one-putts in the final nine holes during a weather-delayed Monday finish at TPC Sawgrass, along with a highlight-reel 9-iron tee shot that ended up four feet from the hole on the famous par-3 17th, to pull out a one-shot victory.
Clutch putting was also part of Smith’s inspired run at the Old Course in July. In the second round, he made 255 feet of putts – the most in a single round on the PGA Tour. In the final round, Smith overcame a four-shot deficit to 54-hole leaders Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland with a closing 64. It included an inward 30, the lowest nine holes by a Major champion in a final round.
After that final round, however, the first public inkling that Smith might not be long for the PGA Tour came in his post-round press conference. Asked if he was eyeing a move to LIV, Smith offered the no-denial denial. “I just won the British Open, and you’re asking about that. I think that’s pretty… not that good.” The rumours lingered the rest of the summer, finally made official after the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship when LIV announced the signing of Smith, Joaquin Niemman, Marc Leishman, Anirban Lahiri, Harold Varner III and Cameron Tringale ahead of its stop in Boston.
Why’d Smith go? Of course, money was one lure he told Australian Golf Digest (but he would not comment on his reported $US100 million contract), but the primary reason was the ability to spend three months a year in Australia that’s to LIV’s October-to-February offseason. “The biggest thing for me joining is [LIV’s] 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.”
Not surprisingly, Smith faced criticism for the decision; nine-time Major winner Gary Player and World Golf Hall of Famer Fred Couples were the most vocal. Smith hit back at the critics when he won LIV’s Chicago event in September in his second start, saying: “I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I’m still a great player.” The next month, Smith squared off against Phil Mickelson in matchplay at LIV’s team finale in Miami, where he also lifted his all-Australian Punch GC team to a $US8 million second-place finish.
In November, Smith reminded the golf world what he is capable of in 72-hole strokeplay when he secured his fifth and final victory of the year at the DP World Tour-sanctioned Australian PGA Championship in his hometown of Brisbane. Smith partied with both the Australian PGA’s Joe Kirkwood Cup and his Open Championship claret jug in a jubilent video that went viral. A few days later, the man with the most famous mullet in golf missed the 54-hole cut at the Australian Open, bringing an end to a year in which he made plenty of putts, and plenty of news.