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One year later, Cam Smith’s outlook on LIV has shifted from avoidance to acceptance

HOYLAKE, England – The pall that was building over professional golf descended on Cameron Smith with a crushing blow last summer. He’d just won the claret jug at St. Andrews, the grail of major championship golf, when the wedge that has divided the game landed on his celebration.

Question: Cam, apologies for having to bring this up in these circumstances, but your name continues to be mentioned, has been mentioned to me this week about LIV Golf. What’s your position? Are you interested? Is there any truth to suggestions that you might be signing?

“I just won the British Open, and you’re asking about that. I think that’s pretty … not that good,” Smith shot back.

Full-field tee times from the 151st Open Championship

Question: I appreciate that, but the question is still there. Are you interested at all? Is there any truth in that?

“I don’t know, mate. My team around me worries about all that stuff. I’m here to win golf tournaments,” Smith said.

Smith would continue to deflect questions about his future with the breakaway league through the Tour Championship. Two days after the season finale, the league announced he’d joined LIV Golf.

As Smith walked onto Royal Liverpool’s practice area Monday to return the claret jug, the last 12 months seemed a blur, both to the Australian and the game.

Smith was suspended by the Tour for violating the circuit’s rules on conflicting-event releases, like all the players who joined LIV Golf. He shot back at critics who claimed the breakaway league doesn’t “play real golf” and made an enormous amount of money – both on and off the course based on various reports of his guaranteed payday from the Saudi-backed circuit.

As the ground has shifted below the game’s footing in recent weeks, Smith – who was the world’s second-ranked player when he bolted for LIV Golf – has also softened his thoughts on last year’s Open Championship.

“I think it was frustrating at the time, just given the circumstance, but then I guess looking back on it, it’s just a guy just trying to do his job and asked a question that everyone really wanted to know,” he said Monday of the exchange.

Smith has largely stayed above the often-contentious debate over the future of professional golf. Even Monday, as the inevitable LIV questions came, he deflected them away, although with a much more deft touch.

“I’m optimistic. I think golf is in a great spot,” he said when asked about LIV Golf’s future. “There’s obviously a lot of things that are up in the air that no one really knows at the moment. I don’t even think the guys that are trying to sort it out really know what this outcome is going to be like.”

Last month, officials announced a framework agreement between the PGA Tour, Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and the DP World Tour. The deal ended the ongoing litigation between the groups and set the stage for a possible definitive agreement that would bring the for-profit golf assets of each group under one roof.

If that deal is reached, and it remains to be seen if the sides can agree before the framework agreement expires at the end of the year, Smith and the other players who joined LIV Golf would be allowed to return to the PGA Tour and European circuit.

Like players on both sides of the divide, Smith didn’t have any interest in delving into the politics of what’s next for professional golf. Other than a show of support for LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, who also hails from Australia, he largely tried to stick to golf at Royal Liverpool.

“He’s doing a great job for our Tour. He’s looking out for our best interest. That’s all you can ask of a guy that’s running the show,” he said of Norman, whose job would be eliminated if the definitive agreement is reached, according to testimony from PGA Tour officials at last week’s Senate hearing.

Many of the old concepts were trotted out Monday, including the idea that the LIV players are uniquely motivated to play well at the majors to somehow prove their worth. But that distortion ignores the group’s body of work this season, including Brooks Koepka’s victory at the PGA Championship and Smith’s fourth-place finish at last month’s U.S. Open.

“We’re all here to win the claret jug, and basically any one of these [LIV players], if they have their week this week, is going to walk away with it,” Smith said.

For many, Smith’s jump to LIV Golf felt like a tipping point for the startup. Losing The Open and Players Championship winner to the competition was a blow for the establishment, but the game eventually reached an uneasy equilibrium and now has moved toward an unlikely unification.

Smith’s begrudging indifference to all things LIV last year at St. Andrews has given way to a begrudging acceptance. The game has reached a critical crossroads, and Smith is uniquely situated to wait out the wrangling. So much has changed since he hoisted the claret jug last year, including Smith’s outlook.