Cameron Smith didn’t know what to expect when he walked out to the driving range at Augusta National on Monday.
He was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with hugs from several of his former PGA Tour friends.
“It was good to see some familiar faces,” Smith said. “Lot’s of laughs, and lots of handshakes. And it was really nice.
“I was just kind of letting it all happen naturally. It was just a really nice experience. I didn’t want to expect too much, but at the same time I kind of wanted that. Not just for myself, but for the game of golf.”
Now it’s getting down to the business of preparing for the Masters, an event Smith has yet to win but has played consistently well at. That includes a tie for second three years ago and a tie for third last year among four top-10s in his past five Masters.
“I haven’t really had a bad week here in a pretty long time, so I’m just really looking forward to getting back out there,” he said.”
Smith acknowledged this is a big week for him as well as the other 17 LIV Golf players in the Masters field, with widespread speculation about how competitive they will be this week. The Saudi-backed league features 54-hole, no-cut tournaments with 48-player fields.
“There’s a lot of chatter about, ‘these guys don’t play real golf. These guys don’t play real golf courses,’” Smith said. “I’ll be the first one to say that the fields aren’t as strong.
“I’m the first one to say that, but we still got a lot of guys up there that can play some really serious golf. I think we just need a good, strong finish.”
Smith presents one of the strongest current cases for critics of the quality of LIV Golf.
The reigning Open champion was the second-ranked player in the world when left for LIV following last year’s Tour Championship. He won the Australian Open PGA Championship in November before a lengthy offseason back in his home country, and Smith admits taking a longer offseason break than normal.
He has yet to find his form this year, missing the cut at the Saudi International on the DP World Tour before posting finishes of T5, T24 and T26 in the first three LIV events of 2023.
Smith has used the Masters to kick-start slow starts in previous seasons, and hopes Augusta National will rekindle the creative side of his game.
“For me, it’s frustrating when I’m playing like this on any tour,” he said. “I feel like I’m tournament-ready, I’ve just got a few tweaks here and there to do.
“I feel like this course makes me find some of those things, and it just comes naturally. I feel like this place is really comfy for me.”
Despite the cordial start between players on the driving range, Smith knows the chatter about the LIV-PGA divide will only grow as the week rolls on. There’s the Champions Dinner on Tuesday and then crowds really start to arrive as the week moves forward .
Come Sunday, Smith hopes defending champion Scottie Scheffler is putting the green jacket on a LIV player.
“I don’t know how the rest of the week is kind of going to unfold,” he said. “For sure, I’d love to see one of us guys get up to the top of the leaderboard there and really give it a nice shot.”
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