Cameron Smith arrived at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on Monday morning with the iconic Claret Jug in hand, ready to finally return it ahead of the 151st British Open this week.
“I thought I was going to do all right, but I was actually holding back from tears,” Smith said. “A bit of a moment, I guess, that crept up on me.”
Smith fended off Rory McIlroy and Cameron Young at St. Andrews last year to win the British Open with an incredible final round 64, which marked his biggest win to date by far. It jumped him to a career-best second in the Official World Golf Rankings, too.
But shortly after that win, Smith officially made the jump to LIV Golf. He’s one of the biggest golfers the Saudi Arabian league brought over. And looking back on that decision a year later, something he said was incredibly stressful to deal with entering the final major championship of the year last summer, Smith said he didn’t have any regrets about the move he made.
“It does seem like a long time ago, last year,” Smith said. “I think it all went so quick for me, really, to be honest, between the decision to go and then being back in Australia and then starting again this year. I wasn’t a part of all the lawsuit stuff. I tried to stay as far away from that as possible.
“Like I’ve said in the past, the PGA Tour is a great place to play golf, and it will be for a very long time. I don’t think there was any part of me that made me think I made the wrong decision throughout any part of the last eight or nine months.”
LIV Golf will be a big focus this week in Hoylake, though for a different reason than it was last year. With the proposed partnership between LIV Golf, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour now in the works, there’s plenty to be determined about what the new venture between the once contentious entities will look like. Nothing is finalized yet, either, and both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Justice Department are investigating the deal.
Smith is trying to stay out of it. He said he avoided the legal battles as much as he could, and he’s hopeful that LIV Golf has a future — something that’s now in question in the proposed framework agreement.
“Absolutely I’m optimistic,” Smith said. “I think golf is in a great spot. 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. Yeah, a lot of uncertainty, but I’m optimistic that LIV will be around in the future.”
Smith won six times on the PGA Tour, including three times last season, before leaving for LIV Golf. He went 15-under on the week and won the London event, which moved him up to second on the LIV Golf individual standings. Only Talor Gooch, who has won three times this season, is ahead of him. Smith’s team, Ripper GC, is in eighth in the team competition.
“I think I’m actually a better golfer now than what I was last year,” Smith said. “I think the stuff that I had to clean up is progressing. It’s still a little bit of a work in progress.”
If all goes well this week, Smith will be reunited with the Claret Jug come Sunday night — something he’s been manifesting in the lead up to his title defense.
“That’s what I’ve been saying to all my mates,” Smith said. “It’ll only be a week and we’ll be drinking out of it again.”