As a Canadian I take it personally that the Saudi Super League, also known as the LIV Golf International Series, has chosen to highjack the RBC Canadian Open this week.
The list of players participating in this year’s Canadian Open, which was cancelled the last two years because of COVID-19, is every bit as good as a major.
Consider the field: Scottie Scheffler (Titleist Pro V1), Sam Burns (Callaway Chrome Soft X), Cameron Smith (Titleist Pro V1x), defending champion Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x), Shane Lowry (Srixon Z-Star XV), Patrick Reed (Srixon Z-Star XV), Justin Rose (TaylorMade TP5), Tony Finau (Titleist Pro V1) and Tyrrell Hatton (Titleist Pro V1), to name a few.
Collectively, they represent major winners and some of the best, young stars in the sport.
The fact the Canadian Open is positioned a week before the U.S. Open is the reason many have ventured north to Canada to participate. The U.S. Open takes place in Massachusetts, which means the players aren’t switching time zones. At one time, the Canadian Open happened the week after The Open, which meant having to travel three time zones, often taking a Lear Jet to minimize the length of the flight.
Missing from the Canadian Open are Phil Mickelson (Callaway Chrome Soft X), Dustin Johnson (TaylorMade TP5x), Ian Poulter (Titleist Pro V1), Lee Westwood (Titleist Pro V1x), Louis Oosthuizen (Titleist Pro V1), Talor Gooch (Titleist Pro V1), Kevin Na (Callaway Chrome Soft X), to name a few. Again, major winners, but not the elite young stars in the sport.
The average age of this year’s PGA Tour winners is around 29. It is clearly a young man’s game.
I get that money talks and the lure of playing in a tour simply by signing a guaranteed contract, regardless of performance, is a luring incentive. PGA Tour players make most of their money via endorsements, which is enhanced based on performance, mainly in the big tournaments.
The fact Tiger Woods (Bridgestone Tour B XS), reportedly turned down close to $1 billion to play in the Saudi Super League, says something about what matters to him, independent of the fact he has probably earned something close to that in his career and he simply can’t play as competitively as he once did due to injuries.
I grew up in an era in the ‘70s when Bobby Hull left the National Hockey League to join the new World Hockey Association for five years and $1 million. He did it for the money because the NHL kept a tight line on player salaries, and $1 million was considered a significant number then.
The United States Football League snagged players from the National Football League for the same reasons.
Money has always talked and athletes will walk if you dangle enough coin in front of them.
Look, Mickelson’s best days are behind him, notwithstanding his PGA Championship last year when he became the oldest player in history to win a major after age 50. So, to make a reported $200 million he has decided to sacrifice his legacy and the various sponsors that dropped him.
Johnson won the Masters in 2020, which was a monumental victory in his life, one that had him choked up with emotion. But he has not been the same player competitive-wise since then, so again he’s looking at a $100 million payday and has said he is doing what’s in the best interests of his family. He doesn’t have to grind it out as much and gets paid big bucks. Yes, he loses sponsors, such as RBC, which promptly dropped him last week.
Overall, the key names joining the Saudi Super League are passed their best-before-date, so I get the lure of the money.
What I don’t get is Greg Norman living up to his nickname as The Shark for becoming the head of the Saudi Super League and taking verbal swipes at some of the people actively playing on the PGA Tour or who built the sport into what it is today, namely Jack Nicklaus.
This has become far too political, but pro sports has always proven that new leagues eventually die or are bridged into longstanding leagues. I don’t see that happening this time, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the PGA looks at all of this and decides to either take a firm line in the sand and ban players or comes to some sort of agreement to allow them to play in both leagues, or at least the majors.
The Saudi Super League won’t destroy the PGA Tour, though it will affect the names playing in weekly events, beginning this week with the RBC Canadian Open.
I also believe sponsors that remove their affiliation with current PGA Tour players will move that money toward new players. I think Scheffler is in for a huge payday.
And existing stars such as McIlroy will also reap the rewards.
As for Norman saying McIlroy has been “brainwashed” by the PGA, well, what a bunch of nonsense. There is no right or wrong in these types of situations. It’s a matter of personal choice.
There, I said it.