British Open champion Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann are among six players to leave the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf, which returns this week for a fourth tournament, this time outside of Boston.
The signing of Smith, who had been deflecting questions about his imminent departure since the day he won the claret jug, gives Greg Norman his first player from the top 10 in the world.
Smith, a 29-year-old from Australia, rose to No. 2 in the world ranking after winning at St. Andrews. He could have reached No. 1 with a victory at the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Now, that opportunity is gone. LIV Golf does not get ranking points, though it filed an application last month.
The PGA Tour is suspending members as soon as they put a ball in play at LIV Golf events.
[Money] was definitely a factor in making that decision,” Smith told Golf Digest of his move to the upstart tour. “I won’t ignore that or say that wasn’t a reason.”
Others to sign are Marc Leishman, a six-time PGA Tour winner from Australia who at age 38 has dropped out of the top 50 in the world, and three others who leave without ever having won on the PGA Tour — Americans Harold Varner III and Cameron Tringale and Anirban Lahiri of India.
Smith and Niemann, who is from Chile, were among the eight qualifiers for the International team at the Presidents Cup, which will be played in a month at Quail Hollow. Leishman and Lahiri previously have played in the matches.