ATLANTA – Open Championship winner Cameron Smith is expected to be among the PGA Tour players to defect to LIV Golf, sources confirmed to ESPN on Saturday.
Ranked second in the Official World Golf Ranking, Smith will become the highest-ranked player to leave for LIV Golf, which is fronted by fellow Australian Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
Australia’s Marc Leishman, Harold Varner III, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, India’s Anirban Lahiri and Cameron Tringale are expected to join the LIV golf circuit. Those players and Smith are expected to compete in LIV Golf’s next event, an international program in Boston on Sept. 2-4.
Chile’s Mito Pereira is also considering joining LIV Golf in the future, sources have confirmed to ESPN.
The denials were first reported on Saturday by the Golf Channel.
Smith and Nieman earned automatic berths to compete in the Presidents Cup at Quill Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 20-25. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has suspended members from competing in LIV golf events, so those players are not allowed to play in the PGA Tour-sanctioned Presidents Cup.
Smith, 29, is a six-time winner on the PGA Tour and won the Players Championship in March, earning him $3.6 million, the largest in professional golf history. Smith will compete in the East Lake Golf Club Tour Championship this week. He declined to answer questions about LIV Golf, saying, “I’m here to hit good shots and make putts.”
Earlier this week, Rory McIlroy said he had spoken to Smith two days after defeating Claret Jug in his 150th Open Championship at St Andrews. McIlroy said he wants to make sure Smith knows what’s coming in terms of changes on the PGA Tour.
On Tuesday, Monaghan announced that the top players on the tour have committed to play in 20 events starting in 2023. In addition, there will be 13 major events with average purses of $20 million and the tour is doubling its Player Impact Program bonus from $50 million. 100 million dollars from next year.
Niemann, ranked 18th in the world, was a wire-to-wire winner of the Genesis at Riviera in February, his second PGA Tour victory. Varner, the 44th-ranked player, hasn’t won on the PGA Tour, but he did win the PIF Saudi International in February.
Nieman told the Golf Channel on Friday that he still hasn’t decided what to do. In addition to Golf Channel, Sports Illustrated also reported Saturday that LIV Golf’s signing is expected to compete in Boston.
Tringale and Lahiri have never won on the PGA Tour. Lahiri has won seven times on the Asian Tour and twice on the DP World Tour.