LIV’s best golfer is back at the Masters. Here’s why it’s complicated

Cameron Smith finally got out to play Augusta National for the first time Tuesday morning.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Normally Cameron Smith would drive up to Augusta on Sunday afternoon before the Masters. He’d play a couple holes at Augusta National and leisurely commence his Masters week. 

This year, Smith spent Sunday in Orlando, playing the most recent LIV Golf event. Attendance was mandatory. So instead of chipping and putting at Augusta National he was washing and drying laundry at home in Jacksonville. He made the four-hour drive Monday morning instead. 

Is the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year behind on prep? Perhaps. He still hadn’t played any holes when Monday ended. On Tuesday, finally some on-course practice with Adam Scott and Min Woo Lee. Smith’s placing a lot of comfort in the fact that he’s played this course “a million times in my head.” 

Downplaying has been a chief maneuver in the LIV golfer’s playbook. They’ve spent the last few months distinctly not making a big deal of this week’s tournament, the first one they’ll play against Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods in more than eight months. And yet, the storyline lingers. It bothers him. 

“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,” Smith said. “I think it’s definitely wound up a little bit too much.” 

And yet, Smith didn’t really know what to expect when he arrived on the grounds. Would he be ignored? Not at all. If anything, Smith was surprised to be showered in hugs, handshakes and jokes. The next concern on his list were the logos on his shirt. Smith is rocking the Ripper GC emblem on his right sleeve and thought he might run into an issue. Augusta National hasn’t been supportive of that endeavor. Nor are they often supportive of brands trying to use the Masters as a marketing opportunity. And yet, no pushback. Another exhale. “We haven’t really heard much from Augusta National about the logos,” Smith said, sneaking a quick glance at the green jacket sitting to his left.

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“Unless it’s a problem for these guys,” Smith continued. ”I’m going to wear it.”

If it became a problem, that would be a headline in itself. Many headlines. Augusta National wants none of that. It’s hard to tell if Smith is paying too much attention to the “chatter” surrounding the game, but perhaps that’s what happens when the 2022 Players champion isn’t allowed to defend his title in the 2023.

Smith was conscious of the “chatter” that has surrounded this week. He doesn’t really love it, the critiques he hears about LIV’s 54-hole structure or the courses that tour ends up playing. But those are the exact things under the microscope during a week in which he’ll play Augusta National, compete for 72 holes, and do so against a much better field than they’ve been used to. 

“I’ll be the first one to say, the fields aren’t as strong,” he said of LIV. “I’m the first one to say that.”

And against those not-so-strong fields, Smith has finished 6th, 26th and 29th this year. A number of the highest paid LIVers haven’t fared well since joining the tour. After winning one of his first events, Smith’s name has been pulled into that recently. Analytics sites rank him 20th in the world.

Did he spend too much time in Australia this offseason? Is his game at the level where he can win? Has LIV given him enough tournament prep entering this week? Those questions can’t be answered on Monday or Tuesday at Augusta National.

Later in the week, maybe. 

Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine, currently working on a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews. You can read about those travels here and catch his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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