AUGUSTA, Ga. — Cameron Smith arrived at Augusta National Golf Club on Monday morning and wasn’t sure what his reception would be like when he stepped on the practice range.
After all, the discourse between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour hasn’t exactly been friendly, especially from those who will be at Tuesday night’s annual Masters Champions Dinner. But after an hour on the range, the Aussie was pleasantly surprised with his interactions with other players.
“It was good to see some familiar faces. Lots of laughs and lots of handshakes, and it was really nice,” explained Smith, the lone LIV player of the 18 on site to face the media in a press conference this week. “I didn’t want to expect too much but at the same time, I kind of wanted that, not only for myself but just for the game of golf. I think there’s a lot of stuff going on at the moment that doesn’t need to be going on, especially in the media. I think it’s definitely wound up a little bit too much.”
LIV Golf has been a disruptor in the game since its inception, and the majority of its players weren’t shy about burning bridges after they left for the upstart circuit that’s led by Greg Norman and financially backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
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Recently, however, players like Smith, Brooks Koepka and Bubba Watson have downplayed the tension between both factions on either side of the pro golf aisle. Meanwhile, LIV CEO and Commissioner Greg Norman has complained about not being invited this week and claimed there will be a LIV party on the 18th green if one of his lot were to win come Sunday, and Fred Couples stood by his recent flamethrower comments about Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia.
“There definitely hasn’t been a conversation with me. If there was one, I definitely got left out of that one,” Smith said with a laugh regarding Norman’s comments. “For sure I’d love to see one of us guys get up to the top of the leaderboard and really give it a nice shot.”
“I think it’s just important for LIV guys to be up there because I think we need to be up there,” Smith continued. “I think there’s a lot of chatter about, ‘these guys don’t play real golf; these guys don’t play real golf courses.’ For sure, I’ll be the first one to say, the fields aren’t as strong. I’m the first one to say that.
“But we’ve still got a lot of guys up there that can play some really serious golf, and we compete against each other hard week in and week out and we’re trying to do the same things that we did six months ago.”
Smith is playing in his seventh Masters this week and believes his game was in better shape last year – when he finished T-3 – compared to this year. That said, the 29-year-old chalked his current form up to his own mistakes and not a lack of preparation due to LIV’s schedule. Smith played four times before last year’s Masters and has played four times before this year’s event.
“A lot of times, I’ve come in not feeling so good with my game and it’s kind of springboarded me into kind of a nice rest of the season,” said Smith of his affinity for Augusta National, where he’s placed inside the top 10 in four of his last five starts, including three top-five finishes. “So I’m kind of hoping that that happens again this year. It hasn’t really been the nicest start for me.”
Smith described his first time at Augusta National in 2016 as a bad experience after his T-55 finish. As a young player in the field, he didn’t feel like he belonged. Fast-forward to this year, the world No. 6 came down Magnolia Lane as a major champion and one of the favorites to contend for the green jacket.
“I think it reminds me of home in many different ways, I guess,” said Smith of Augusta National, which he referred to as his happy place. “It allows me to be creative, the firmness and fastness of the greens reminds me a lot of (Australia’s) Sandbelt area and just good memories, I think. I haven’t really had a bad week here in a pretty long time.”
Smith still lives in Jacksonville, Florida, but didn’t watch much of his hometown Players Championship, where he was also the defending champion, and instead elected to spend the weekend with friends fishing on his boat.
“It was nice; all the residents seemed to be at the golf course, so we had the water to ourselves,” he said with a laugh. “It was kind of nice.
“Yeah, for sure there’s been a couple of tournaments that I really have enjoyed in the past that I feel like I’ve missed out on. But at the same time, I’ve made my bed and I’m happy, very, very happy where I am.”
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