Defending Players champion Cam Smith teed it up Thursday at TPC Sawgrass ... just not on the Stadium Course.
According to Golfweek, Smith, who is suspended from the PGA Tour for defecting to LIV Golf, was instead playing Thursday at The Yards, a nine-hole course that is one mile down the road from the Stadium Course, where The Players Championship is being played.
"Extremely cordial and personable," The Yards' staff said while confirming to Golfweek that Smith did play there on Thursday morning. They reportedly declined further comment.
One year ago, the Aussie won The Players by one stroke over now-fellow LIV player Anirban Lahiri. It was the biggest victory of Smith's career until he won the 150th Open at St. Andrews last July, one month before bolting to the Saudi-backed circuit.
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It's the first time someone isn't defending their Players title for a reason other than an injury. A winner has not defended their Players title only four times in the event's 49-year history. The last time was Tiger Woods in 2014, who was nursing a back injury.
Earlier this week, some of the most notable names at the PGA Tour's flagship event admitted that Smith's absence is noticeable, but were bullish that this year's Players would continue to be one of the year's marquee events.
"Would it be better if the defending champion was here this week? Absolutely," Rory McIlroy said Tuesday. "But he made a decision that he felt was the best thing for him, and he knew that decision was going to come with consequences."
"Listen, Cam Smith had a great performance in 2022," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. "He was a deserved champion. ... To answer your question directly, yes, it's awkward. But you know, ultimately that's a decision he made, and we've got an unbelievable field here this week and a history and tradition that one of these 144 [players] is going to go seek to get."
Could there be a Smith sighting at the Stadium Course this week? The 29-year-old lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, near TPC Sawgrass, and told Golf.com that he'd consider attending the event as a spectator.
"I'd love to get out there," he said. "I don't know how it would be received. But even getting out there, watching, walking around in the crowd might be pretty funny."
He also told Golf.com that he'd love to defend his title, but knew that'd be something he'd have to give up when he jumped to LIV last year.
"It stings a bit," he said. "But with my decision to come over to LIV, that was one of the things I had to give up, and I'm at ease with it."