Exclusive: LIV Golf captures Open champion Cameron Smith in $100m deal

·4 min read
Cameron Smith with the famous Claret Jug at St Andrews last month - AP
Cameron Smith with the famous Claret Jug at St Andrews last month - AP

Cameron Smith, the Open champion, has signed a $100 million-plus deal to join LIV Golf in a major coup for the Saudi-backed rebel series.

Telegraph Sport understands the Australian - who declined to comment on a potential deal immediately after his dramatic win at St Andrews - will now play at LIV's upcoming event in Boston. While Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka were also seen as major coups, the signing of Smith is seen as arguably more significant given he is currently world No 2.

LIV refused to comment but Greg Norman, the architect and chief executive of the series, is understood to have reached an advanced stage with Smith prior to the Open. He will almost certainly have commanded a bigger fee since, having been initially offered around $100m.

A formal announcement is not expected until the three-week FedEx Cup play-off series has finished, Smith reaffirmed his commitment to it last month and is in the field in Memphis for Thursday. Smith, who is second on the FedEx standings and one of the favourites to land the $18m title, could heap major embarrassment on the PGA if he secures the biggest cheque in golf before announcing his defection.

Telegraph Sport revealed immediately after the 28-year-old's Open title at the Home of Golf that Norman was keen to build an all-Australian team. Australian golfer Cameron Percy appeared on Australian network RSN Radio via phone on Monday, suggesting Smith and Marc Leishman were on their way to LIV.

"Unfortunate, yeah, they’re gone," Percy told RSN. He has since elaborated on the comment, telling Australian Golf Digest: "Look, I was just conveying what was said in the locker room during the many rain delays we’ve had on tour the past few weeks."

Telegraph Sport, however, has subsequently confirmed the deal, as far as Smith is concerned, is done. He is certain to play on the FedEx as the PGA Tour have so far waited until the players actually hit a ball in LIV until they have banned them.

The Tour's policy in throwing out players was put to the test in court in California on Tuesday, with Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford losing their case for a temporary restraining order.

Gooch, Jones and Swafford will not be allowed to play in this week's FedEx St Jude Championship. US District Judge Beth Labson Freeman heard the case and ruled in favor of the PGA Tour, which had filed a filed a motion in federal court to keep the three suspended players from competing in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

The judge sided with the PGA Tour, which argued that the players were trying "to have their cake and eat it too," according to the tour's motion. "LIV contracts are based upon players' calculation of what they were leaving behind," Freeman said as part of her ruling.

Smith, who has already claimed $3.6m for winning the Players Championship this year, will join the other rebels for the first time at LIV's International in Boston from September 2. Sources said he had already agreed in principle before the Open for about $100m "but his fee will have gone up".

LIV supremo Norman had been the last Australian to lift the Claret Jug in 1993 prior to Smith, who has previously said it was "not good" to be asked about the breakaway. "My team around me worries about all that stuff," he said at St Andrews. "I'm here to win golf tournaments."

The Smith deal will be announced as LIV also primes itself to announce that it is heeding the advice of the R&A and will take the circuit to eight countries in its first season as a league next year.

On Tuesday night, Smith declined to comment again when asked about Telegraph Sport's details of the deal as he addressed media at the FedEx St Jude Championship. "I have no comment to that," he said. "I’m here to play the FedExCup Playoffs. That’s been my focus the last week and a half, that’s what I’m here to do – I’m here to win the FedExCup Playoffs."