For the second time in as many years, the Canadian Open has been upstaged by dramatic events taking place elsewhere.
Canada’s national men’s open championship is set to start Thursday morning at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in north Toronto. Casting a long shadow will be Tuesday’s news that the PGA Tour and the upstart LIV Golf league are entering into an alliance, along with the DP World Tour that is based in Europe.
It was a stunning turn of events because the Saudi-financed LIV and PGA Tour had over the past 18 months engaged in, first, a war of words, then a battle for some of the world’s top players and then, most recently, an extensive fight in court that looked like it could drag on years.
That all changed on Tuesday.
Canadian Adam Hadwin was in the tournament media center for his scheduled slot on Tuesday afternoon. Hadwin was surprised and said he felt badly for the Canadian Open, which last year took place as LIV was holding its first tournament overseas in London.
All this followed two years of pandemic-related cancellations and until last year’s tournament at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, the tournament had last been held in 2019.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan flew to Toronto last year in a show of support for the Canadian Open and he was in the city again on Tuesday for much different reasons: to explain to his membership why he entered a deal with his sworn enemy.
Details are sketchy but the best-guess scenario why the PGA Tour reversed course was that the business model it had taken to compete with LIV Golf was unsustainable and was starting to scare away sponsors, golf industry partners and fans.
LIV plays a schedule of shorter – 54 holes versus 72 – events that payout a total of $25 million (all figures US) to its limited fields where all 48 players earn a cheque. In response, the PGA Tour had brought down a schedule of “elevated” events where its members competed for $20-million but maintained a full compliment of 156 golfers with a 36-hole cut to a shade less than half of the original field, who share the prize money.
Before Tuesday, the biggest question surrounding the Canadian Open is whether it would become one of those designated tournaments on next year’s schedule. The field, which has more than 20 Canadians competing including recent PGA Tour tournament winners Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Svensson, are vying for a $9-million purse this week.
Aside from Hadwin, no Canadians were available for comment on Tuesday but Conners and Hughes are both slated to speak with the media on Wednesday, as is two-time defending champion, Rory McIlroy, who has been a vocal critic of the Saudi-backed LIV circuit.
Saudi Arabia has in recent years attempted to use international sport, including many that it previously had little or no involvement in, to burnish its reputation and get the world to look past its appalling record on human rights.
The former European Tour began holding tournaments in Saudi Arabia several years ago. That foray was nominal until it became known about two years ago that Greg Norman, the world’s most popular player between the Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods eras, was working with them to grow a global golf tour.
Norman, who was previously scuttled in doing the same while in his prime, was once again rebuffed by the PGA Tour. Instead, he worked with the Saudis, who anted up huge signing bonuses for established players to leave the PGA Tour.
Starting with a trickle last spring but soon was picking up steam – with the 2022 Canadian Open taking place smack-dab in the middle of it – several high-ranking players left to join Norman’s effort. Former Masters winner Patrick Reed pulled out of last year’s Canadian Open and soon announced he was leaving for LIV.
Brooks Koepka, who recently won the PGA Championship, got married, invited Monahan to the wedding, and then promptly left to join LIV.
Jason Kokrak, an American who was born in North Bay, stormed off the course last year at St. George’s in Toronto and didn’t even bother to sign his scorecard because he knew he was also fleeing to LIV.
Amid the exodus, the tour even put an official inside the scoring trailer last year to explain what players should say about LIV. One player cited it as a distraction that caused him to fail to sign his scorecard which then resulted in his immediate disqualification.
All the dramatic goings-on last year made for compelling entertainment especially when McIlroy won in stirring fashion on a beautiful late-spring Sunday summer afternoon.
Now, a year later and 10 kilometers away at Oakdale, the golf world has once again been turned on its head and the Canadian Open is the first tournament to absorb the impact.