The PGA Tour will decide in the coming days whether to give releases to players who have asked for passes to compete in the first LIV Golf Series event, slated for June 10-12 in London, England.
So far, the only golfers who have admitted to making the ask are Phil Mickelson, Robert Garrigus and, most recently, Lee Westwood. Many more, including some who are regulars on the DP World Tour, have requested leaves. Their names will be revealed if they get the pass, which is expected to happen.
That’s also the point at which those golfers will be giving a slap in the face to the RBC Canadian Open. The dates of the first LIV event go up against the national championship, being played for the first time in three years after a pause for the pandemic.
The three aforementioned players haven’t been integral parts to the Open in the past. Garrigus has played 11 times, the most recent in 2018. In 2017, he finished fifth after tying the course record at Glen Abbey with a Saturday 62. He’s a friendly and likeable guy but doesn't help sell tickets on his own.
Mickelson has made three visits north, the last in 2004. He never seemed to forgive the Royal Canadian Golf Association (now Golf Canada) for disqualifying him for a bad drop in 1993. Westwood has never played in the national championship.
It’s the names yet to come that may raise some eyebrows – higher-profile players who have been regulars at the Canadian event, cashed cheques from RBC and who will instead chase bigger bucks across the pond this year.
“I don't think it looks great for someone who maybe has played their entire career on the PGA Tour, but it's going to happen,” said Webb Simpson at a press conference at this week’s Wells Fargo Championship. “This has all been in theory for the last bunch of years. We're a few weeks away from (finding out which) guys are going to do it, we'll see how it all shakes out.”
Simpson, of course, can be considered biased. He is part of RBC’s team of ambassadors, players who are paid to wear the company’s shield on their sleeves.
But that’s also part of the reason why ditching Canada for England is bad-mannered. RBC has invested in golf in a massive way. The bank sponsors two PGA Tour stops as well as numerous other endeavours, including developmental programs and charitable causes linked to golf and grassroots programs such as the RBC PGA of Canada Scramble.
“They've been very, very loyal to the PGA Tour,” Simpson, one of the most astute players in the game, said. “They've given us a lot of opportunity between RBC Heritage and RBC Canadian Open. They have a great event at a great golf course this year, St. George's. It's a 45-minute flight to the U.S. Open. So, I think I'm a little biased because I love their partnership both with me and the PGA Tour.
“I do think if guys with PGA Tour cards go play in London when there's an opportunity to play for whatever it is, $8 million, and RBC, I think that's – I don't think it looks great for someone who maybe has played their entire career on the PGA Tour. But it's going to happen.”
This is likely just the opening salvo of LIV Golf versus the PGA Tour. As far as what’s likely ahead, this first conflict is just a single raindrop in a coming deluge.
The RBC Canadian Open is going to be just fine no matter which players run off and chase the Saudi money. The field includes defending champion Rory McIlroy, Masters winner Scottie Scheffler, the RBC logo-wearing gang of Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Harold Varner III, Brandt Snedeker, and Graeme McDowell, as well as what could be the most talented contingent of Canadians to play in their national championship.
No one at Golf Canada or RBC is particularly worried about going up against the LIV Golf event. The Open, which will include concerts from Flo Rida and Maroon 5, will come off as well as it ever has. Corporate sales are triple the previous high with Golf Canada running out of room on the course on which to construct facilities to house them all.
The popular Rink Hole – the tournament’s tribute to the 16th at Waste Management Phoenix Open – will no doubt be packed with the likely overserved rowdies.
Organizers have also promised a few more surprises in the coming weeks with more top golfers joining the field.
The players who choose to play elsewhere have that right (as long as they get releases). Each one has to decide what’s right for him and whether he can live with that decision.
But at the end of it all, there is a price to loyalty, and it isn’t part of the purse.