(Photo Credits: Kevin Ketchum)
By Fox Valley Magazine and LIV Staff
If you’re having difficulty understanding why some of the biggest names in golf have defied the USPGA to sign up with an upstart challenger like LIVE Golf, look no further than the following three numbers: $2.5 million, $3.6 million and $4.06 million.
The first two numbers represent what Australian Cameron Smith received for winning The Open Championship and the Players Championship in 2022, two of the USPGA’s most prestigious tournaments.
On Sunday, Smith received $4.07 million for three days of work at what is only the fifth tournament held by LIV, the LIV Invitational Chicago.
When Cameron Smith joined LIV Golf, he already had won three times in 2022, and had become one of the world’s top golfers. And yet he felt that skeptics remained because of his career decision.
“I think for sure there is a history aspect that is for certain missing, but it doesn’t mean that the tournament is a bad tournament because of it. There’s 48 of the best guys out here trying to compete and trying to win. In 10, 20 years’ time, these could be the biggest events in the world. We’re just not there yet.”
In making his inaugural start in Boston, Smith called it “the most pressure I’ve been under all year inside of an event. I feel as though I needed to prove to myself and probably more so to other people that just because I’ve changed tours doesn’t mean I’m a worse player for it. I’m still out here to win.”
On Sunday at the LIV Golf Invitational Chicago, that’s exactly what the 29-year-old did, claiming the individual trophy at Rich Harvest Farms by three strokes over Peter Uihlein and Dustin Johnson.
Smith shot a final-round 3-under 69 to finish at 13 under, with Uihlein also shooting 69 to claim second place in points via tiebreaker ahead of Johnson.
Johnson, however, did get to celebrate with his 4 Aces GC team, which won for the fourth consecutive time, completing the sweep of the U.S. regular-season events before the Invitational Series heads overseas to Thailand and Saudi Arabia for the next two tournaments. Patrick Reed’s 68 – which included two chip-ins, one for eagle and one for birdie – and Pat Perez’ 69 led the way on Sunday, with Johnson supplying a 70.
Even though Johnson, the individual winner in Boston, rarely put heat on Smith on the back nine, the 4 Aces captain delivered the winning birdie on the par-5 18th for the $3 million first-place team prize. Uihlein’s Smash GC, captained by Brooks Koepka, made its first appearance on the team podium this season and will split second-place prize money of $1.5 million.
“I knew we were one shot ahead,” Johnson said. “Playing with Pete and Cam, I knew I needed to at least tie Pete on the last hole for us to get the win. Great day, though. Really proud of the guys. It was really nice to get that fourth victory in a row.”
As for Smith, his birdie on the 18th hole also impacted the team standings, even though he had safely sewn up with the individual result. By making birdie, the captain of Punch GC moved his team into a third-place tie with Phil Mickelson’s Hy Flyers GC.
“I said to Sam, my caddie, we need to drain this one for the boys,” Smith said. “It was nice to get that done because I know it means a lot for those boys, but also the team standings for the end-of-the-year event.”
Smith, who finished one stroke out of the three-man playoff won by Johnson in Boston, suffered a couple of early bogeys before bouncing back with three birdies in a five-hole stretch midway through his round. The key moment came in response to Johnson’s birdie at the par-5 7th to momentarily grab a share of the lead. Smith then drained his own birdie putt on top of Johnson’s to reacquire the lead, then followed with another birdie at the 8th to extend it.
“I think it was quite frustrating at the start of the day,” said Smith, who won $4 million in individual prize earnings. “My warmup wasn’t fantastic. I didn’t feel like I was striking the ball as well as I had the first couple of days. I just kind of stuck in there.”
Uihlein had a roller-coaster back with four birdies and two bogeys but was glad he could stay within striking distance of Smith. “I don’t feel like he just coasted coming in,” said Uihlein, who now has two top five finishes in LIV Golf this season. “He’s the best player in the world for a reason. I’m really proud of the way I played.”
Uihlein and Chase Koepka were instrumental in helping Smash GC apply the pressure on the 4 Aces. Chase Koepka shot a 5-under 67 to lead his team while finishing ninth overall, with his brother adding a 70. “Chase kind of led us all day,” Brooks said.
Mickelson produced the low round of the day and his best round in LIV Golf this season, a 6-under 66 to lead his team. But it was Cameron Tringale’s late birdie that elevated Hy Flyers into third place.
“It was a big day for our team getting a little bit of momentum heading into the last three events,” Mickelson said. “And it was a big thing for me to have a big round because I haven’t played well starting out and I feel it’s starting to turn and starting to change. I just needed it to click.”
81 FREE MULLETS AND $110K FOR CHARITY
Inspired by Cameron Smith, the Mullets for Charity initiative being held at the pop-up barbershop in the Fan Village at LIV Golf Invitational Chicago was a huge success.
For every fan who volunteered to get their hair styled into a mullet, a $1,000 donation was made through LIV to Give, LIV Golf’s charitable giving platform.
In addition, a $30,000 donation was made after LIV Golf Commissioner and CEO Greg Norman received his mullet. That brought the overall total charitable amount to $110,000.
Smith had shears in hand after Saturday’s second round to start the haircut on Norman before the regular haircutters finished the job.
“Talking about nerves,” Smith said. “I was so nervous to cut Greg’s hair. I didn’t really want to stuff it up. I know he doesn’t have a lot left, so if I had have stuffed it up, it would have taken him a while to bring that back.”
PAT PEREZ JUST NEEDED TO WEAR SHORTS
Compared to the other members of the dominant 4 Aces GC, Pat Perez had supplied the fewest counting rounds. He wanted to increase his contributions, and this weekend he may have uncovered the secret – wearing shorts.
Prior to the second round in Boston two weeks ago, LIV Golf announced that players now have the option to wear shorts during competition days. But because the 4 Aces have played so well, captain Dustin Johnson didn’t want to tempt fate by altering their look. So all 4 Aces continued to wear pants the final two rounds in Boston, as well as the Friday’s first round in Chicago.
But with Perez coming off a 4-over 76, he made the request to wear shorts. Johnson obliged.
“We had a team dinner on Friday night after the first round, and yeah, we told Pat to just do Pat,” Johnson said. “Just wear shorts, do whatever you want, hat backwards, whatever. Just play better.”
Perez wore shorts for both weekend rounds, and his scores were markedly improved. He shot a 1-under 71 on Saturday and a 3-under 69 on Sunday, with both scores counting for his team.
“I was shooting amateur scores, so I figured I’d wear shorts,” Perez said. “But I had to change something up, and the last two days were good. Plus it was hot. I had to go with shorts.”