ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — For now at least, there’s a two-part ritual for men’s golf majors: Watch the golf tournament, then wonder about the golf future.
Smith won and dazzled with five straight birdies from Nos. 10 to 14, a clever par save on No. 17 and another birdie on No. 18, then brought his claret jug to the news conference, then fielded the fair question about LIV as the 16th question in the queue of questions. A fair follow-up came 17th, out of the total of 31.
Question: Cam, apologies for having to bring this up in these circumstances, but your name continues to be mentioned — has been mentioned to me this week about LIV Golf. What’s your position? Are you interested? Is there any truth to suggestions that you might be signing?
Smith: I just won the British Open, and you’re asking about that. I think that’s … not that good.
Follow-up question: I appreciate that, but the question is still there. Are you interested at all? Is there any truth in that?
Smith: I don’t know, mate. My team around me worries about all that stuff. I’m here to win golf tournaments.
Next question in the room: Did you have spaghetti Bolognese last night?
A funky year found a quintessence right there, all as Smith refrained from dismissing the prospect he might become the first player to win a major tournament and then quit competitive tour golf for LIV and its soft, cut-free, 54-hole excursions. The deflection of the question left the topic open for perhaps the coming days and weeks, even as the Daily Telegraph reported Monday that Smith committed to playing the FedEx Cup playoffs, the balance of the PGA Tour season. The PGA Tour has prohibited LIV defectors from playing in PGA Tour events.
As further sauce to the ritual, Smith on Monday morning bolted from No. 6 in the world to No. 2, behind only Scottie Scheffler and just ahead of Rory McIlroy. And both Sky Sports and Expressen of Sweden reported that Henrik Stenson, the 2016 Open champion, would bolt to LIV, jeopardizing his Ryder Cup captaincy.
Golf-wise, LIV golfers fared much better than at the U.S. Open near Boston in June, when they happened to pose no real relevance. The best golfer the new outlet has snared to date, Dustin Johnson, finished tied for 24th for their highest position.
Johnson also led the LIVers at St. Andrews but nibbled at contention during the weekend before winding up tied for sixth at 13 under par, seven shots behind Smith. Others nibbled behind Johnson: Bryson DeChambeau tied for eighth; Abraham Ancer tied for 11th; Talor Gooch and Lee Westwood tied for 34th. As a cherished course got mauled and 73 players wound up under par, those 73 included LIV’s Patrick Reed, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia.
It ratified the words of the most accountable of the LIV players, Gooch, the 30-year-old Oklahoman ranked No. 41 in the world: “As humbly put as possible, it doesn’t take a lot for us at this level to stay sharp.”
For the most part, LIV talk bubbled well beneath the grand celebration of golf history at the sport’s birthplace. The 2013 champion, Phil Mickelson, didn’t get invited to the champions’ dinner. The 1986 and 1993 champion, Greg Norman, head honcho of LIV, didn’t get invited at all. Westwood got into a salty debate with a reporter in which Westwood charged the media as more concerned with LIV than the public, a take belied by website traffic numbers around the world. Poulter finished his first round and said he heard no hecklers.
The golfers who seemed capable of handling the issues included DeChambeau, who said Saturday, “I think over the course of time it will all work itself out. I think in some capacity we’ll find a way to coexist and work together through this to make the best entertainment we possibly can for the world.”
Gooch, who was a member of the winning team in the second LIV event in June in Oregon, said Friday: “Everybody, it feels like, is against us, and that’s okay. . . . It’s kind of banded us together, I think.”
Others, such as Westwood or Smith, seemed less prepared.
As with the U.S. Open, the four days of competitive golf drowned out the LIV talk, except in sprinkles at certain interviews and in conversations in the galleries.
Gooch owned the ribbing he took from peers for his post-win comments comparing the LIV atmosphere to the Ryder Cup.
“Yeah, a bunch of players came up, and they’re like: ‘Really? Really?’ ” he said. “I was like: ‘Hold on a second, guys. Give me a little break. I just won. I was in the moment. I might have gotten a little aggressive with the comments.’ No, I mean, like I said, I was just in the moment with them. We were pumped. I watch F1. I was so pumped to be able to spray champagne like they do in F1. I was in the moment. Maybe a little aggressive of a comment. Rightfully so, I’ve taken a little bit of heat for it.”