MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Ryan Palmer might really feel Cam Smith’s footsteps approaching from behind the microphone. After a whole spherical enjoying collectively, he wished to get in a single final shot.
“That is what I like about what we do out right here, there’s all the time someplace to go up and there is all the time one thing to play for,” Palmer mentioned, deliberately framing a query concerning the BMW Championship throughout the bigger narrative that has consumed golf this season, a story wherein Smith has change into a central determine. “We’re not enjoying for simply cash.”
Welcome to what’s turning into essentially the most weird FedEx Cup playoffs in PGA Tour historical past, and its annual cease in Memphis might additionally double as the beginning of the PGA Tour’s worst nightmare.
Smith is the most recent golfer rumored to quickly be defecting to LIV Golf and he’s simply two pictures again of the lead heading into Sunday on the FedEx St. Jude Championship. He would ascend to No. 1 on the planet rankings ought to he win this match.
And strolling the course with him supplied perception into simply how unhealthy this might get for the PGA Tour. His gallery picked up steam simply as he did on the again 9. By successful The Gamers Championship and The Open Championship, and by doing so with that particular mullet of his, he constructed a model by means of the PGA Tour.
A model that’s stronger proper now than numerous the golfers anticipated to stay loyal to the PGA Tour. A model that LIV Golf has reportedly deemed to be price $100 million. A model that may be as painful to lose as any of the massive names that already left.
Simply think about if Smith leaves the PGA Tour after successful one in all its signature occasions (The Gamers), the final main of the 12 months, after which the season-ending postseason the Tour has spent greater than a decade attempting to show into a giant deal. Think about if he does it because the No. 1 golfer on the planet.
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“I had Jordan Spieth, (Matt) Fitzpatrick and (Max) Homa yesterday, and this man has far more followers,” mentioned FedEx St. Jude Championship volunteer normal bearer Nick Johnson. “He bought extra yells at him at this time than all three mixed.”
Some will not be what you’d ever count on on a golf course, at the very least till this 12 months.
“$100 million man!,” a patron screamed as Smith walked by on No. 14.
“Sellout!” shouted one other.
“Don’t go to LIV!” somebody pleaded as Smith ambled down the seventeenth fairway.
However there have been much more cheers than jeers. This isn’t one other state of affairs like final 12 months, when Bryson DeChambeau’s critics outnumbered his champions throughout a Sunday collapse on the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship.
Smith bought a loud roar upon being launched on the 18th inexperienced and took selfies with followers as he headed to signal his scorecard.
“The previous few weeks at residence has been mainly can’t exit to dinner with out anybody saying good day or wanting an image,” Smith mentioned of his current burst in notoriety since successful The Open Championship. “So it has been somewhat bit completely different, however yeah, nonetheless getting used to it.”
Austin Allen, for example, drove all the best way from Murray, Kentucky, to soak up Saturday’s third spherical. His plan was to comply with Scottie Scheffler, the present No. 1 on the planet. These plans went awry when Scheffler, who generated headlines by strolling throughout Smith’s sightline as he lined up a putt within the first spherical, missed the reduce.
The golfer Allen selected to comply with as an alternative? Smith. And the Aussie made a very endearing impression on the seventh gap.
He hit his tee shot far proper into the gang. To date that it broke a fan’s mobile phone.
“What’s your telephone quantity?” Smith requested her, based on Allen. “I’ll purchase you a brand new telephone.”
He actually can afford it.
However the PGA Tour can’t afford for Smith to maintain going like this. To doubtlessly change into the most effective golfer on the planet proper earlier than he bolts for the Saudi-funded LIV Golf collection that lured Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and DeChambeau earlier than him.
The stakes are excessive Sunday, and Smith doesn’t appear to be distracted by them, or by Palmer, or by any of the controversy at present swirling round him.
“I am simply attempting to hit the most effective shot I can,” Smith mentioned. “That is what I am right here to do is to hit good golf pictures and make birdies.”
And, maybe, give the PGA Tour the nightmare it so desperately must keep away from.
You possibly can attain Industrial Attraction columnist Mark Giannotto through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and comply with him on Twitter: @mgiannotto