Monday, October 3, 2022

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RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: Cameron Smith is still brilliant… the difference is that now hardly anyone cares

If a tree falls in the forest without anyone hearing it, does it make a sound? By similar logic, if Cameron Smith catches a putt to win on the LIV Tour, does anyone outside of his orbit really care?

He’s done well this year, Smith. The best golfer in the world? It’s hard to argue against a guy who won the Tournament of Champions, Players Championship and Open ahead of this weekend’s Rebel Alliance meeting in Chicago.

The biggest of the prizes Smith won during these tougher times was £3m at the Players, dubbed golf’s fifth major, and he won just over £2m at the Open nine weeks ago.

The Tournament of Champions was worth £1.3million. That putt he potted in Chicago added £3.5million to his fishing treasury and some more to his sanity as what he shared afterwards was revealing. Also a bit sad.

“I feel like I had to prove myself and probably more other people, just because I switched tours doesn’t mean I’m a worse player,” he said.

Here’s the thing – no one considered him a worse golfer, just a less relevant one. And he’s undeniably and tragically less relevant now.

If we stick to a basic set of numbers from the weekend, we can gauge an interesting take on the current attractiveness of the three main tours: the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and LIV.

Each of them had what could be called their best-case scenario for a quiet week on the golf calendar. For the PGA Tour, that meant a head-scratching surrender at the Fortinet Championship, where Danny Willett made three putts from four feet to give Max Homa a win.

What the field lacked in star depth it made up for in drama, and the PGA Tour’s social media numbers support that view: A video of Willett’s collapse has been viewed more than 600,000 times as of this writing.

A few hours earlier we watched the conclusion of the Italian Open of the DP World Tour. It had little connection with being played on the Ryder Cup course and had a good finale as Robert MacIntyre defeated Matt Fitzpatrick in a playoff.

The tour video of the winning putt has been viewed around 100,000 times. It didn’t break the internet, as they say, but it did have its place.

And then there’s LIV. Their new boy, Smith, won a tournament where Dustin Johnson played exceptional golf.

To beat him, Smith was immense, demonstrated by his flop over a bunker on 11 on his final round that required a soft landing in an area the size of a beermat. He nailed it – again, talent isn’t the issue, and neither is top-notch competition.

invisibility is. Even before diving into the politics and its origin story, sports fans seem to care very little about the actual golf – LIV’s post of Smith’s winning putt was viewed by 30,000 people as of Monday afternoon.

Again, these are tiny slivers of the world of metrics. And we know that LIV will grow significantly, especially as their presence normalizes over time.

But perhaps what we are seeing right now is indifference to a company where money is openly presented as the greatest of all commodities.

As fans, we can sympathize with Willett and be happy for Homa, who once missed 15 cuts in 17 tournaments.

We can also cheer for MacIntyre who was so close to being a Ryder Cup selection last year and has now raised a flag in Rome for the next. But Smith and his growing wealth? Whatever floats your superyacht I suppose.

Credit to Danny Willett. Players who have suffered far less bitter losses have fled courses long before the mics, but the 2016 Masters champion stayed in Napa and conducted interviews after his three-putt horror show. “It’s a shame how I’m done, but this is golf,” he said. “We will repeat it another day.”

Dare we say it, Pat Perez has a good thing in store for LIV. He is yet to finish better than 15th in one of their tournaments with his own ball, but as he is Dustin Johnson’s fellow Four Aces in the team event, he has £2.6million stuffed into his pants.

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