‘It stings a bit’: Cameron Smith opens up on being barred from defending Players title

Cameron Smith

Last year, Cameron Smith won the PGA Tour's flagship event. This year, as a LIV golfer, he's barred from defending his title.

Getty Images

This interview was first published in the March 2023 issue of GOLF Magazine.


For defending Players champion Cameron Smith, the LIVing has been easy — even if that means he won’t be competing in his own backyard this week at TPC Sawgrass. In mid-January of this year, GOLF Senior Writer Josh Sens spoke to Smith on the clubhouse patio of the Dye Preserve in Jupiter, Fla.

Josh Sens: We’re coming up on a year since your big win at the 2022 Players Championship. What are your most vivid memories from that week?

Cameron Smith: What stands out for me was that it was the first time I’d seen my mom and sister in about two and a half years, so it was a very emotional time when golf really took a back seat. But all the stars aligned, and I played really good golf, even though I wasn’t expecting to. I had a pretty hard history on that course.

JS: You didn’t practice much leading into the event?

CS: I’m probably known as being a bit lazy on the practice range, so a lot of people didn’t think anything of it. But, yeah, I was trying to spend quality time with family, and I already knew the course well [because I live] in the area.

Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith wins Australian PGA Championship, marking third title on home soil
By: Jessica Marksbury

JS: Now you’re the defending champ, and you won’t be there because LIV players have been banned from the event. How much does that bother you?

CS: It stings a bit. But with my decision to come over to LIV, that was one of the things I had to give up, and I’m at ease with it. I’d love to be playing there, but there are a lot of other great tournaments and venues and countries that I’m looking forward to this year.

JS: You give off the impression of someone who doesn’t have to work very hard on your game. On a scale of one to 10, how much of a grinder are you?

CS: I’ve always been kind of a process guy. Some days, I’ll spend three to four hours on the range. Other days, I’ll literally be there for half an hour and if I do what I want to do, I’ll be the first one to put my hand up and go home. A lot of other guys are different. In the past few years, I’ve hung out a lot with Billy Horschel, and it seems like he’s out there from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, trying to get the most out of himself. But it’s just never the way I’ve seen golf. I’ve always wanted to keep it fun and entertaining for myself.

JS: Soon after the Players comes the Masters. Augusta National recently announced that it won’t ban LIV players. But were you worried when you joined LIV that you might not be invited back to Augusta?

CS: When I was at the Masters last year, I never really thought about it because I’d never thought about [joining LIV]. But it’s a place where I’ve played well and that I love, so if I were never able to go back there again, I’d be pretty gutted.

JS: What about this year? Were you concerned you might be kept out?

CS: Yeah. I mean, for sure. There was a little bit of chatter about it. But it’s just one of those things that I had to weigh. And, for me, being able to spend time in Australia — I just spent seven or eight weeks there, which is something I haven’t been able to do in six or seven years — being able to spend that quality time with family far outweighed any golf tournament.

I’m not sure about the whole ranking thing. It’s nice to have a system, but we all know who the good guys are.

JS: Part of the backdrop of this year’s Masters will be LIV and Tour guys competing in the same field. Do you feel like there’s any kind of rivalry?

CS: I can only speak for myself, but I’m there to win the golf tournament. Whether it’s Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy behind me, it’s not going to matter. I’m sure there are a few guys from LIV who have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder about it. But it’s definitely not me.

JS: Do you expect the atmosphere to feel any different this year?

CS: I think it will be interesting. I feel like I get along with 99 percent of people, and if they have a bad taste in their mouth because of me going to play somewhere else, they can have that opinion. But I’m not going to let it bug me. I’m still going to like the same people I liked before.

JS: Who are your closest friends on Tour?

CS: The Aussie guys are probably the guys I hang out with the most. With Leish [Marc Leishman] coming over to LIV, he’s probably my closest mate out there, followed closely by Scotty [Adam Scott], who obviously stayed on [the PGA] Tour, but we still talk a lot. I’ve become really close with Billy [Horschel] as well. He’s been very vocal about LIV, but we’re still good friends.

JS: A title you will get to defend this year is the Open Championship. How much did your win last year at St. Andrews mean to you?

CS: It was awesome. I think the Claret Jug is one of the most amazing trophies in sport, let alone golf. I just took it down to Australia, and the way that people look at it for the first time, it’s like they’re seeing a ghost.

Cameron Smith
At the ’22 LIV finale, Smith’s scorching 65 nearly earned his team the championship. Getty Images

JS: One of the criticisms of the LIV tour is that the competition isn’t as intense, so guys are going to lose their edge. Is that a concern to you?

CS: We’re still playing the same game. It’s just on a different tour. I think that argument has gone out the window.

JS: What about the argument that with all the money you’ve been paid, you won’t have as much drive?

CS: We’re all still competitors. We want to beat each other. There might have been one point really early in my career where I was like, “Gosh, I have to make this putt to pay rent.” But from that point on, the drive has always been about wanting to beat everyone.

JS: LIV events are not eligible for world-ranking points. How important are the rankings to you?

CS: I’m not sure about the whole ranking thing. It’s nice to have a system, but we all know who the good guys are.

JS: You’re currently ranked fifth in the world. Where do you rank yourself?

CS: I don’t know. I feel like I’m playing some solid golf, so I’ll just leave it at that.

JS: Since you won’t be defending at the Players, what will you do that week?

CS: I’ll be watching. I grew up my whole childhood watching. And that’s where I live now. I’d love to get out there [as a spectator]. I don’t know how it would be received. But going out there and walking around in the crowd might be pretty funny.

Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.