The RBC Canadian Open is not one of the majors on the PGA Tour, nor is it a designated elevated event, but for the last two years it has become the tournament in which the biggest news in the history of the sport has happened; news that has shocked the very foundation of golf. Call if the golf war.
Aside from being the event leading up to the U.S. Open the last two years, it is the tournament that ran up against the debut of LIV Golf.
Now it has become the event in which the PGA Tour and its European arm, DP World Tour, have struck up an alliance with the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund that backs LIV Golf. The Saudi company will now pump significant cash into the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. Where that leaves LIV Golf, a fledgling tour with some noteworthy players who defected from the PGA Tour, is unknown.
PGA Tour-turned-LIV Golf players such as Phil Mickelson (Callaway Chrome Soft X), Dustin Johnson (TaylorMade TP5x), Brooks Koepka (Srixon Z-Star Diamond), Bryson DeChambeau (Bridgestone Tour B X) and Cam Smith (Titleist Pro V1x), all major winners, have pocketed guaranteed money. They took the money and ran. Will they be welcomed back to the PGA Tour? Probably not this year. But the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund would likely want them back in at some point.
Embattled PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will be the head honcho of this amalgamated threesome, but how much clout will he have? Right now he is considered somewhat of a Benedict Arnold. Apparently some players want him to resign. He stood behind the PGA Tour and its players, and now has left them perplexed, disappointed and angry, though they will profit in the long run.
But let’s go back to a year ago, when some of the top players in the world, including several aligned with RBC, were playing in the inaugural LIV event instead of the Canadian Open. Johnson was the biggest name of the RBC defectors and promptly lost his sponsorship agreement with the bank. But with a reported $100 million guaranteed signing bonus, he decided it was worth it.
Last year the defections didn't matter because the Canadian Open field drew many of the top-ranked players in the world, notably Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x) and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler (Titleist Pro V1). McIlroy, in particular, became the biggest supporter for the PGA Tour in the LIV feud. Before the tournament began, he was asked about the money that lured the big-name players. He promptly said when you make a decision based on money it usually doesn’t work out. He said he was speaking from experience. He also described himself as a golf nerd and took great pride in the Canadian Open, one of the oldest events on the PGA Tour. McIlroy won the Canadian Open for the second consecutive time, and as if by fate he ended the season winning the Tour Championship.
It was almost as if the golfing gods rewarded him for his alliance and commitment to the Tour and the verbal abuse he took from some in the LIV faction.
Sadly, 2023 has not been kind to McIlroy. He has struggled, something he attributed in part to all the time spent helping the PGA Tour in its battle with LIV. All he wanted to do going forward was work on his game. It will be interesting to see how much the latest development will impact his schedule.
He was asked by the media on Wednesday how the latest news impacts a tournament such as the Canadian Open, one of the storied events on the PGA Tour.
“I feel bad for RBC and the Canadian Open,” he said. “To think about what went on this time last year and then the bombshell that was dropped (this year), RBC has been one of the biggest supporters of the PGA Tour over the last 10 years. This year they are supporting a designated event at Hilton Head, they are sponsoring their National Open and they are pouring tens of millions of dollars into the PGA Tour that the players obviously benefit from.
“Being such a great partner and having this stuff dropped on you two years in a row is very unfair. As to what it looks like going forward, I’d like to think the Canadian Open keeps on thriving just like any other event on the PGA Tour.”
McIlroy is arguably the most popular PGA Tour player among fans, young and old. He just seems to have charisma that resonates with all age groups. If he repeats again as Canadian Open winner, it will be another one of those feel-good stories.
All of this news gives Netflix's series Full Swing more fodder for its second season. The show had its flaws in its first year, but Ian Poulter, who defected to LIV, said Netflix “picked a hell of year to follow the PGA Tour.” It was luck more than anything because Netflix did not have a crystal ball to foresee the feud. Nor did it anticipate a union between the PGA and the LIV financial backers. It was a well-kept secret.
Last year the Canadian Open took place at a course that was about a 20-minute drive from where I live. I attended the third round and it was amazing to see the stars up close and the energy of the crowd. This year the event is taking place at a course about a 40-minute drive from where I live. I plan to attend again.
The event does well in terms of the number of patrons who come to see it, something like 150,000. Canadian golf is flourishing now with several players emerging on the PGA Tour – Corey Conners (Titleist Pro V1), Adam Hadwin (Callaway Chrome Soft X), Adam Svensson (Callaway Chrome Soft X), Mackenzie Hughes (Titleist Pro V1), Taylor Pendrith (Callaway Chrome Soft X) and Nick Taylor (Titleist Pro V1x). Mike Weir (Titleist Pro V1), who won the Masters in 2003, is teeing it up as the Canadian Open as always. Brooke Henderson (TaylorMade TP5x), a multiple major winner on the LPGA Tour, heads up the female Canadian contingent.
So, being a Canadian, I’m glad the Canadian Open, which was once considered the unofficial fifth major, has become the spotlight this year and last year in the face of this uncivil golf war. It is the only Canadian stop on the PGA Tour. I hope it is given elevated status soon.