Golf legend Greg Norman lured Australian stars Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman to join his controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf series with the promise of a 25 per cent stake in one of the tour’s 12 franchises.
Smith, who won the Open Championship this year and rose to world No. 2, was reportedly paid AU$140 million to walk away from the PGA Tour and sign with LIV Golf, becoming the only player ranked inside the top 10 to defect to the rebel tour.
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Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald ahead of LIV Golf’s fifth event in Chicago this week, Norman revealed that granting Smith and Leishman 25 per cent ownership of all-Aussie outfit Punch GC was integral to the successful pitch, allowing the duo to grow the franchise in Australia and maximise their own profits.
Under the business model proposed, Smith and Leishman will be given the keys to Punch GC and spearhead LIV Golf’s push into Australia from 2023.
“You’ve got to think about it from Cam’s perspective, he completely understood one thing that other people are struggling to understand: the value LIV Golf brings, and that new value is the franchise,” Norman told the publication.
“Cam knows about it, but he’s probably a little too young to understand what Kerry Packer did in cricket. He did what he did for the players, creating teams and night cricket … look where it’s evolved to from there with the IPL. The value of those teams in India is incredible. That’s the new value we bring.
“(Smith) sees the market that Australia presents and the market which, quite honestly, has been starved of high-quality players and new value for the game of golf. The Presidents Cup comes in there once every seven to 10 years, sucks the economy dry and then disappears.”
Norman also confirmed that a decision on the venue for the Australian leg of next year’s LIV Golf tour, which will take place two weeks after the Masters in April, would be made imminently, but Sydney or the Gold Coast are the leading candidates.
Meanwhile, Smith has dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 on the rankings, a slide set to continue because as LIV events are played without world ranking points on offer.
But it wasn’t all bad news for Smith, who was named the PGA Player of the Year, presented by the PGA of America, and he’s all but certain to win another Greg Norman Medal as Australia’s player of 2022.
His career goal to be world No. 1, however, seems shot.
Norman submitted LIV’s application for his events to get official world ranking points in July when “examination of the application” began, but he faces an uphill battle to get approval.
Smith’s next, and only, chance to get world ranking points in the foreseeable future will come at the Australian Open and PGA in November and December, which he and fellow LIV convert Marc Leishman have committed to playing.
Only three Australians have ever risen to the world No. 1 ranking – Norman, Adam Scott and Jason Day – and Smith has all but forfeited his chance of becoming the fourth.
Scott remains the second-highest ranked Australian at No. 30
World ranking points are crucial for players to qualify for major championships, although Smith does have an exemption due to his stunning win in the British Open at St Andrew’s.
But other LIV players don’t, an issue that came to a head at last week’s European PGA Championship where 17 LIV players teed off.
American Scottie Scheffler remains world No. 1.
— with NCA NewsWire