Australia’s Cameron Smith, world No.2 and reigning British Open champion, has joined the rebel golf circuit LIV Golf.
Confirmation of a long-suspected move came with an official announcement from the Saudi-backed organisation on Tuesday.
Compatriot Marc Leishman has also signed up to the new body, the arrival of which has split golf.
They bring the number of Australians on board with LIV to eight with Marc Jones the next biggest name of the octet.
Australian LIV CEO Greg Norman revealed earlier this month the circuit is looking to hold an event Down Under in 2023 and have been scouting potential venues.
“The biggest thing for me joining is [LIV’s] schedule is really appealing,” Smith told Golf Digest. “I’ll be able to spend more time at home in Australia and maybe have an event down there, as well. I haven’t been able to do that, and to get that part of my life back was really appealing.”
However, he admitted the financial rewards were also tempting – Smith is reported to have received a $US100 million ($A145m) signing-on fee.
“[That] was definitely a factor in making that decision, I won’t ignore that or say that wasn’t a reason,” Smith said. “It was obviously a business decision for one and an offer I couldn’t ignore.”
Smith and Leishman are among six players joining the circuit in time for it’s fourth event, at The International course in Boston, Massachusetts, teeing off on September 2-4.
The other four are Chile’s world No.19 Joaquin Niemann, India’s highest-ranked player Anirban Lahiri, and Americans Harold Varner III and Cameron Tringale.
“LIV Golf is showing the world that our truly global league is attracting the world’s best players and will grow the game into the future for the next generation,” Norman said.
Smith, 29 from Brisbane, is the first current top-10 player to join LIV. He has had a stellar season winning the Players Championship as well as the Open. He was also tied for third at The Masters, one of three top-5 Masters finishes in the last five years.
Leishman, 38 from Victoria, has won six PGA Tour events during his career. Now ranked 62nd in the world he has reached No.12 in the past and has twice finished in the top five in both the Open and the Masters. However, he has missed the cut in seven of his last 15 major appearances.
Both players are still eligible for the Australian PGA and Australian Open but will not be considered for next month’s President’s Cup.
The $A36m Boston event features a 48-man field playing 54 holes. Other Australians in the field besides Smith, Leishman and Jones are current Australian PGA champion Jediah Morgan and Wade Ormsby.
Also on Tuesday, in a move that appeared to be aimed at LIV golfers, Europe doubled the number of wild cards available to their Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald for next year’s event in Rome.
Six of the 12 players will now be at Donald’s discretion with the others being the three leading players on the European Points List, followed by the three leading players on the World Points List.
Several leading figures for European Ryder Cup teams in the past, such as Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, have defected to LIV. With LIV events not receiving ranking points – an application is pending – they are likely to need a wild card.
As Donald was himself appointed after Henrik Stenson was sacked for joining LIV that seems improbable.