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‘It stinks’: LIV Golf’s debut leaves PGA Tour loyalists facing different questions

Mackenzie Hughes at the RBC Canadian Open.

You’d be forgiven if it has escaped you, but there is another golf tournament happening this week — one featuring five of the top 10 players in the world in the field, including Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy; a $8.7 million purse; and a 22-person grandstand dangling above the course from the end of a crane.

We speak of the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open, which this week has drawn the short end of the publicity stick with the attention of the golf world (and beyond) focused squarely on the surreal happenings on the other side of the Atlantic: LIV Golf’s coming-out party at the swank Centurion Club, outside London.

There is, in fact, much to celebrate in Toronto. First, that Canada’s national Open is back, for the first time since 2019. Second, that it has attracted a stacked field. And third, its venue: old-timey St. George’s Golf & Country Club, a recently restored Stanley Thompson gem that should serve as a proper warm-up for the U.S. Open next week.

But pace the range or media center at St. George’s, and you’re certain to hear much buzz that other event, the one in London. “It’s certainly all everyone wants to talk about, from pro-am partners to journalists,” a reporter on-site told me Wednesday. “Fans are excited for the players here, but lots of questions about what this looks like going forward if more players start to jump.”

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So far that list includes the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell; until recently the latter two were RBC ambassadors and Canadian Open regulars. On Wednesday, news also broke of two more high-profile players who have reportedly signed with LIV: Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed.

With all this activity, it’s not hard to understand, then, why the genius of Stanley Thompson’s greens isn’t exactly a hot talking point this week in Toronto.

Mackenzie Hughes, proud son of Canada, was asked by a Canadian reporter, politely, if he thought “it’s a bit of a shame” that the LIV event coincides with “our National Open?”

“There’s no doubt that it stinks,” Hughes said. “I would be lying if I said it was good timing. There wasn’t really going to be good timing for that, but as a Canadian, yeah, it’s a bit, yeah, disappointing. But not much we can do about that, other than focus on what’s going on here and trying to make this one a great one.” He added, “I’m not too concerned with what’s going on over there.”

What’s going on over there — on Wednesday, anyway — was a striking contrast to the congenial vibe in the Canadian Open press center. In London, the LIV participants were grilled by British reporters for accepting gobs of money to play in the Saudi-financed league. Ian Poulter was asked, “If Vladimir Putin had a tournament, would you play?” Meanwhile, in Toronto, one reporter apologized for broaching the LIV quandary.  

“Sorry for being the guy who is going to ask this question—” a reporter began to Justin Thomas.

“I knew it was coming,” Thomas said. He continued:

“It’s a bummer. I think a lot of us are — I don’t know if annoyed or tired is the right way. … I’ve thought a lot about it and it’s like, look, like people are entitled to choose as they wish. I don’t dislike D.J. now. I don’t think he’s a bad dude. I’m not going to treat him any differently. It’s like he’s entitled to choose as he wishes.

“I think that the day and age that we live in now, it’s just so negative that you see it in everything. Sport, politics, whatever it is, it’s like if you disagree with someone, you just feel that you’re entitled to, like, hate them and talk bad about them and just bash their decision, when everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, you know what I mean?

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“Like I said, it doesn’t make him a bad person. Now, I’m disappointed and I wish that he and others wouldn’t have done it, but that’s their decision.”

How, and if, that disappointment will divide players or uproot relationships remains to be seen. These guys were colleagues, and now, more than ever, it feels like they are competitors — not in a who-can-make-more birdies sense; in a we-now-work-for-different-employers sense. Also unclear is how Jay Monahan and the PGA Tour will penalize LIV participants. It was thought that Monahan might address the media — and some of these questions — at the Canadian Open this week. Thus far, there has been no sign of him.          

A notable Monahan loyalist, however, did take questions Wednesday. That would be Rory McIlroy, who from the early days of the LIV threat has been beating the PGA Tour drum louder than any of his peers. When asked about the “the fuss” around LIV, McIlroy said he understood the “goals and ambitions” of the players who have left the Tour, but that big life decisions that are decided by money “usually don’t end up going the right way.”

McIlroy has more money than he could ever need, but he is also a pragmatist and a big-picture guy. If you’ve listened to him throughout his career, you know this. Sure, he’s worried about stars fleeing the PGA Tour, but his concerns extend just beyond who he’s competing against week to week. He’s also thinking about you, the golf fan.

“I think it’s a shame that it’s going to fracture the game,” McIlroy said. “The professional game is the window shop into golf. If the general public are confused about who is playing where and what tournament’s on this week and who is, you know, oh, he plays there, OK, and he doesn’t get into these events. It just becomes so confusing. I think everything needs to try to become more cohesive, and I think it was on a pretty good trajectory until this happened.”

Buckle up. This ride is only going to get bumpier.

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