ATLANTA – Open Championship winner Cameron Smith is expected to be among the next wave of PGA Tour players who defect to LIV Golf, sources confirmed to ESPN on Saturday.
Smith, the second-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, will be the highest-ranked player to leave for LIV Golf, which is being fronted by fellow Australian Greg Norman and financed 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 also expected to join the LIV Golf circuit. Those players and Smith are expected to compete in LIV Golf’s next event, scheduled at the International in Boston on Sept. 2-4.
Chile’s Mito Pereira also is considering joining LIV Golf at some point in the future, sources confirmed to ESPN.
The defections were first reported by Golf Channel on Saturday.
Smith and Niemann had earned automatic berths on the International Team to compete in the Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 20-25. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has suspended members for competing in LIV Golf events, so those players wouldn’t be permitted to play in the Presidents Cup, which is sanctioned by the PGA Tour.
Smith, 29, is a six-time winner on the PGA Tour and won The Players in March, which earned him $3.6 million, the biggest purse in professional golf history. Smith is competing in the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club this week. He has declined to answer questions about LIV Golf, saying “I’m just here to hit good shots and make putts.”
Earlier this week, Rory McIlroy said he talked to Smith two days after he won the Claret Jug at the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews. McIlroy said he wanted to make sure Smith knew what was coming in terms of changes on the PGA Tour.
On Tuesday, Monahan announced that top players on the Tour had committed to playing in 20 events starting in 2023. There also will be 13 elevated events with average purses of $20 million, and the Tour is doubling the Player Impact Program bonus from $50 million to $100 million starting next year.
Niemann, the 18th-ranked player in the world, was the 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 pick up a victory in the PIF Saudi International in February.
Niemann told Golf Channel on Friday that he was still undecided about what he was going to do. In addition to the Golf Channel, Sports Illustrated also reported on Saturday that he is expected to sign with LIV Golf and 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.