One wonders if the RBC Canadian Open didn’t have bad luck, whether it would have any luck at all.
While much of the sports world managed to keep going one way or another during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian stop on the PGA Tour hasn’t been played since 2019, when Rory McIlroy ran away from the field in Hamilton.
That’s a lot of revenue lost. This year, the tournament is set for the second weekend of June at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Etobicoke, with Islington Golf Club in a supporting role. And wouldn’t you know it? Another troublesome obstacle has popped up.
That would be Greg Norman’s new LIV Golf Invitational Series, which will hold the first of its eight scheduled events this season — you guessed it — right up against the Canadian event.
After years of battling to maintain its status on the PGA Tour, and finally finding a much better position on the golf calendar just one week before the U.S. Open, let’s just say competition is not what Golf Canada needs at the moment.
Now, you can expect Canadian Open organizers to dismiss the LIV Golf tournament as anything but serious competition, with the vast majority of the top PGA pros expected to be at St. George’s. Phil Mickelson, a supporter of the Norman-organized “super league,” was widely torched by the golf industry earlier this year for making some controversial statements, and those who would prefer to see the structure of elite golf remain exactly as it is wasted no time in suggesting the Saudi-backed tour would never get off the ground.
Still, it was interesting this week to hear that English golfer Lee Westwood, once the No. 1 player in the world, sought his release to play the LIV Golf event at the Centurion Club in London rather than make the trip to Canada. Westwood isn’t exactly a star anymore, but he was runner-up in the 2021 Players Championship and has been a frequent participant in Ryder Cup competitions.
“It’s an opportunity to play in a big tournament against some of the best players in the world, in England,” explained Westwood. “I love playing in England in front of home fans. So any time there’s an opportunity like that, I feel like I should take it.”
For the LIV event, 48 golfers will compete in 12-man teams with no cut. Norman has said 15 of the top 100 in the world rankings have committed to playing. But other than Westwood, Mickelson and Robert Garrigus, no other names have been made public.
The LIV tour targeted big-name players, with Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau thought to be among them. But after Mickelson’s comments — which included calling the Saudis “scary (expletives)” — became public, a number of golfers backed away and top names on the PGA Tour criticized Mickelson. Given that he hasn’t always been the most beloved player on tour, many golf commentators took the opportunity to unload on Mickelson as arrogant, selfish and greedy.
The worst part of the entire episode was that it completely detracted from some intriguing thoughts from Mickelson, that LIV Golf offered professional golfers around the world a chance to “reshape” the way the PGA and golf industry work.
“Golf desperately needs to change,” he said, “and real change is always preceded by disruption.”
Change, of course, is not what the golf world’s powers that be want. Like professional tennis, they like it the way it is: no players union, no minimum salaries, no benefit packages and no collectively bargained 50/50 split of revenues. Keep the top stars happy and content, and the other players aren’t likely to make trouble.
In 2021, the 100th golfer on the PGA money list was Justin Rose at about $1.3 million (U.S.). The 100th-highest salary in the NHL this season, by comparison, was Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames at $6.125 million. NHL players also get their accommodations, health benefits and pension costs covered, while PGA golfers do not.
The average salary for Major League Baseball players is more than $4 million. The 100th-highest paid NFL player makes $6.5 million.
Mickelson and Norman have been making the case that golfers, particularly those outside the top 25, could be leaving a lot of money on the table and that LIV Golf offers an opportunity for earnings available outside the established tournaments.
“I’m a big believer in growing the game of golf on a global basis,” said Norman.
But that intriguing discussion got completely lost in the controversy. It was easier just to trash Phil.
It’s going to be interesting to see which golfers follow Westwood’s lead, and how the PGA and European tours react — Suspensions? Lifetime bans? — if the LIV Tour can attract more names and stay in business for several seasons.
Five of the rival tour’s eight tournaments this year are scheduled for the United States. But the PGA has rules blocking players from competing in conflicting events. The second event is in Portland, at the same time as the PGA’s John Deere Classic in Illinois.
For an event such as the RBC Canadian Open, this isn’t a problem today or next month. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler will be in Toronto, not London. But it could be troublesome down the line.
This year, the Canadian tournament will offer a purse of $8.7 million, with $1.4 million to the winner. The inaugural LIV event, meanwhile, has a total purse of $25 million, with $4 million for the win.
Will golfers ignore the risks and follow the money, like NHL great Bobby Hull once did when he jumped to the World Hockey Association? We’re about to find out, and golf may never be the same.
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