LIV Golf convinced Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman to join Saudi-backed series with stake in franchise

Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman were given more than just a nice paycheck to leave the PGA Tour for LIV.

The Australian golfers received a 25 percent stake in the Punch GC franchise, LIV CEO Greg Norman told The Sydney Morning Herald this week. Smith, the 2022 Open Championship winner, is the first top-10 player to join the Saudi-backed golf series. LIV also reportedly paid Smith upwards of $100 million as well.

“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 said. "... [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.”

Bringing Smith and Leishman into the fold appears to be a crucial marketing tactic by Norman to expand LIV throughout the world. Punch GC's other two members, Wade Ormsby and Matt Jones, are also Australian and LIV plans to have an event in their native country two weeks after the 2023 Masters. Norman also told the Herald he sent representatives to tour more than 20 courses in Australia. Gold Coast and Sydney are reportedly the leading contenders, while Royal Sydney already turned down LIV.

What's next for LIV

LIV just wrapped up its fourth event in Boston earlier this month — which was won by American golfer Dustin Johnson — and heads to Chicago this weekend before going overseas to Bangkok, Thailand, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in October.

The controversies surrounding LIV and its Saudi backers have been much-documented, but the rival series is also quickly unraveling the game of golf itself. Players who leave for LIV are banned from PGA Tour events and their ability to play in the majors remains a huge question mark.

Norman, meanwhile, believes those who run the majors shouldn't bow to the will of the PGA when it comes to allowing LIV players to compete and should instead remain neutral in the fight between the two competing golf leagues.

“If [the majors] ban players because of the PGA Tour, they have no right to tell each of those majors what to do," Norman told The Herald. "They’re independent organizations. Yes, certain members sit on their board. I get it and I understand that. [But] if you were a broadcaster you would be questioning the value of your investment for television if you don’t have the strongest field in each and every one of them. I hope they stay Switzerland.”

Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman are the newest golfers to jump to LIV. (Photo by Chris Trotman/LIV Golf via Getty Images)
Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman are the newest golfers to jump to LIV. (Photo by Chris Trotman/LIV Golf via Getty Images)