U.S. Open takes centre stage as LIV Golf controversy escalates

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The RBC Canadian Open couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. With Rory McIlroy successfully defending his 2019 crown from the final group with Justin Thomas and Tony Finau, it was a shootout all the way at St. George’s. McIlroy (62), Finau (64) and Thomas (64) weren’t the only ones shooting lights out. Justin Rose flirted with 59 before settling for a final round 60 and Corey Conners also shot 62 to win the Rivermead Cup as the low Canadian. What was your take on this year’s RBC Canadian Open?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I have been in Ireland the past two weeks, doing intensive research on behalf of the readers of Fairways.  Unfortunately, the Canadian Open was not available on any hotel screens (although it was broadcast on Sky-TV, the Euro equivalent of ESPN.)  I’m so sorry I missed it, it sounded like one for the ages, with the most popular outcome imaginable (except, of course, if a Canadian had come out on top.)  I just hope it revived some of the lustre of our national tournament, and provided a satisfactory return for RBC, despite the controversy of losing two of its Team RBC players to the LIV Golf league.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): This was the best RBC Canadian Open operated to date. No disrespect to any other venue or year, everything just seemed to align. Great venue, amazing play, star studded leaderboard and the weather cooperated. Let’s just repeat it next year at Oakdale!

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: It was a fine tournament. There was a lot of action around the top of the leaderboard, lots of low scores and the course was beautiful. However, if the rough was done a bit, the greens at 11 and the pins very slightly less extreme, the old girl (St George’s) would have coughed up around -32 or 33 as the winning score. Number nine is a decent hole. A slightly uphill 360-yard par four. On Sunday, the players drove up close to the green. Last week when the average person was playing, this hole was a nice drive and a short iron. You cannot make the course play any more difficult than it was and look at the scores. Last week, this hole was a drive and a short iron. The winning score was -19 with 2 par 5s converted to par 4s which means the score was actually -27.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Wow, what an event.  The PGA Tour and Golf Canada have to be over the moon with how the week went.  The crowds were amazing, the weather held off, the course looked and played great, the cream rose to the top of the leaderboard and the best players played their best on Sunday.  What more could you ask for.  Let’s hope this turns the tide a bit and gets this tournament back among the premier events on the schedule each year, with the top players showing up regularly.  Can’t wait for Oakdale next year already!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Loved the spectacle, loved the ‘show’ — although the bar in the sky was over the top, so to speak. The course looked wonderful, the rough was at ‘Major’ height, and as Rory said, all St. Georges needs is a little length. Doubt the neighbours would agree to giving up a few acres to add 4-500 yards to Thompson’s classic design, but final rounds in the low 60s don’t say ‘national championship.’ That said, the final round was as good as it gets on the PGA Tour.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): For excitement, the final round likely matched 2004 when Mike Weir nearly won. That final group was amazing and when you throw in the Justin Rose 59 watch, it was compelling TV. St. George’s looked spectacular but I suspect the honchos at Golf Canada and the club are wondering what they can possibly do to toughen the course. It’s too short by modern standards and there’s no room to add length. Last week the pros shredded it. Hopefully they can find a way to keep St. George’s in the Canadian Open rotation.

LIV Golf kicked off their series in London, England with Charl Schwartzel the first to pocket a $4 million first prize cheque. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan made some remarks during the RBC Canadian Open telecast in which he defended the suspension of former PGA Tour players who defected to LIV Golf and seemed resigned to the fact that there may be more defections to follow. Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas also weighed in with their support for the PGA Tour. No doubt this battle will get uglier as time goes on. How are you feeling about LIV Golf now and what it means for the future of professional golf?

Deeks: The LIV Group seemingly has an endless supply of money to throw at the PGA Tour players it’s enticing to come over.  And a few more may follow.  So this “tour” may not go away anytime soon.  And that’s too bad, because I think it’s diluting the men’s game — with the result that no winner on either tour can say he’s “beaten the best in the world”.  Politically — and none of these renegade players can pretend that they aren’t involved in, or concerned with, politics — I think it stinks that these guys are taking blood money from an evil empire.  Most of them are already multimillionaires, so how can you call their actions anything but greed?

Loughry: Although before my time, I’m certain the first few years of the PGA Tour each week contained the best professional golfers in the world, especially when world travel became much easier. I love the Majors because that’s pretty much the only time we see all the best players in the world playing in a single event together. I think we all do. Between the number of events the PGA Tour puts on each year, DP World Tour and now LIV Tour, I believe we will now see Majors become that much more compelling. With so much playing opportunity, we will be watching watered down fields, and all I personally want to watch is the best players play in a single event. Currently, no Tour provides that week to week, and it will be worse adding LIV Golf into the fold. Hence, my theory that the Majors will become that much more interesting to watch than they already are.

Schurman: The players are being discriminated against for joining the Saudis. The double standard is the USA Govt does significant business with the Saudis, and the USA buys all kinds of products from them. There were 11 journalists who disappeared in Mexico last year alone. Yes, the Saudi Human Rights are reprehensible, but no more than peaceful demonstrators were beaten in the USA streets in the past few years. China has over 1M political prisoners and trade hasn’t stopped with them. This entire issue has been extremely well managed by the PGA TOUR who have turned the argument from one of competition to one of human rights. Money talks!  Seventeen of the top 100 in the world played and only one has given up his PGA TOUR membership (Kevin Na) and all have been suspended. Jay Monahan was interviewed during the Canadian Open and made a farce out of the TOUR position. He claims the TOUR has an obligation to provide a quality field to their sponsors. What will he do when 15 or 20 PGA TOUR Players defect and then again in the next event? Will he suspend them too? Who will he get to play then?  We’ll see. Isn’t this fun? I told you to fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a wild ride.

Rule: I have to admit that I tuned in a bit to see how it looked, and it didn’t excite me at all.  The format seems like an exhibition and there weren’t enough big names to draw my attention.  However, they seem to be gathering steam and they aren’t going away any time soon, so I think everyone has to learn how to play nicely in the sandbox.  I just don’t want there to be a split in talent where we no longer see the best players playing against each other regularly.  So hopefully they figure something out, sooner than later.  But that’s wishful thinking!

Quinn: The only thing that has changed is the obscene numbers have been revealed. There’s probably a lot of Ogletree-level players around the world salivating over making $120,000 (US) for not breaking 75 for three rounds. But who cares if players like that fill Norman’s fields? Patrick Reed? Who cares that he’s not on TV? Not even his family! LIV’s challenge now is creating entertainment with this cast — some bit players will sign on, but again, folks ain’t hitting the ‘record’ button when these types are playing on the Tour.  This ensemble isn’t ready for prime time, so it’s just the Saudis slushing money in a cynical conceit that this is how the West will be won. It’s a waiting game. Hopefully the PGA Tour, the R&A, the USGA, the Augusta National members, and the PGA, will be patient and stand united.

Mumford: I think LIV Golf is a long way from Greg Norman’s stated dream, which was to bring the world’s best players together more often. Right now, all LIV Golf is doing is diluting the fields for PGA Tour and DP World Tour events. If they can find a way to co-exist, then maybe a true series of World Championships can evolve so that along with the majors, the best players compete a dozen times or more a year. However, that would mean the PGA Tour would have to cede some control and that sounds like a non-starter as long as Jay Monahan and many of the elite players are concerned. I do have one question though. If LIV Golf keeps adding players, which ones do they kick out to keep the fields at 48 and if someone gets kicked out, can they return to their former Tour?

Brooke Henderson won her 11th LPGA tournament on Sunday and acknowledged that this year she has had to adjust to a shorter driver to comply with a new USGA rule on the maximum length of drivers and she’s also had to adjust to a new putting style since she switched to left hand low. During her final round, Brooke hit every fairway and averaged 264 yards off the tee and didn’t make a bogey either, scoring 7-under 64, demonstrating that both changes have been dialled in. Comment on Brooke’s win and how difficult it is to make those kinds of changes to equipment and putting style.

Deeks: I was so delighted to see Brooke win (actually, in Ireland, I was following the leaderboard online).  Like everyone else, I was in the dark about the reason for her timeout in most of May (still am), but thrilled that she was able to come back and show she’s still one of the five dominant forces on the LPGA Tour.  Perhaps her time off was dedicated to making those driver and putting changes.  If so, it worked, and once again, Brooke proved she’s the greatest Canadian professional golfer of all time.

Loughry: To me, it shows Brooke is a pure athlete, and mentally tough. To make those changes which no doubt must have felt very foreign and may still, and then pull off a win? I only have one word to describe that: impressive.

Schurman: Equipment changes affect each player in a different way. Sometimes a one-degree ‘bump’ in a player’s irons is all they need to either improve or fail. Of course, players have their favourite specs, and many have used those for many years, but the best players can hit the ball with a broom. However, for top performance under pressure excellent club fitting is essential. One of the greatest displays of skill I have ever witnessed was watching Moe Norman. As he stood rifling driver shot after driver shot on exactly the same trajectory and distance, a buddy said, “Hey Moe, look at my new driver”. Moe grabbed it and continued hitting shot after shot with absolutely no change to the flight.

Rule: What a great win, kind of out of nowhere.  I saw the leaderboard entering the final round and figured she was a bit too far back to contend, but what a great Sunday for Brooke!  She has had a quiet (but still quite impressive) season, and this win vaults her back into the conversation of best female players on the planet.  And all that after making changes to her putting and driver, very impressive indeed.  I really hope she contends in a major or two this year.

Quinn: With that 48-inch driver, she always looked like she was choking down on her Daddy’s club. Pretty sure the guys in the lab coats at PING had figured out the alternative long before the ruling, so her driving stats shouldn’t be surprising. On the playoff hole, she still choked way down on the 5-wood. Good on her fixing the putting. That fix has worked for a lot of players, hope it’s not a band-aid.

Mumford: Hats off to Brooke! I suspect the change in driver length was mostly a case of acquiring confidence in the new shaft. Obviously, that took a bit of time but once she had it solved, it was just bombs away and I doubt she’ll give it another thought. The putting change may be evidence of a more serious problem. My experience is that putting is either natural or it’s not. I once played a tournament with an older gentleman who had won club championships over five decades. He putted anything under eight feet left hand low and anything longer in a convoluted side-saddle style. I asked how long he had done that, and he said only a year or so. Before that it was a series of annual changes to find anything that could work. Hopefully, Brooke has found a solution she can stick with.

The U.S. Open goes this week at the Country Club in Brookline, MA, a historic course in the annals of American golf. The field features the top ranked players in the world plus qualifiers, and includes some defectors to LIV Golf. Who is your pick to win the U.S. Open and will the LIV Golf defectors be booed and heckled?

Deeks: My pick to win is — surprise, surprise — Rory McIlroy… for the obvious reason that he’s firing on all cylinders from St. George’s.  And yes, I hope the LIV Golf renegades are booed and heckled for what they are: selfish, greedy mercenaries, playing solely for their own gain, for an organization that, from what I can see, gives not one dime back to the communities in which it operates.

Schurman: This is just like Free Agency in every other sport! When a popular player returns to the team they just left, the home crowd has a bit to contribute. In this case, the media has whipped the fans into a frenzy over what should be a far less newsworthy subject. I’m not saying the Saudis don’t deserve every bit of criticism they are getting but let’s not throw stones as we reside in a glass house. Further, when does the cry come against Trump for providing his courses for LIV events? No course, no event.

Rule: First off, I don’t think the LIV players will get heckled, at least not much.  There will be the odd yahoo that yells something inappropriate but generally Americans still like Phil, DJ, etc., and I’m not so sure that many people have a strong objection to the guys defecting to LIV.  We’ll have to wait and see.  As for my pick, I’m thinking Matt Fitzpatrick has good feelings at Brookline and will carry that into a win this week.

Quinn: If they pour as generously as they did at St. Georges, it could be very interesting. Americans have finally been reminded about the Saudi 9/11 connections, so it doesn’t feel like it will be a warm, ‘prodigal sons’ reception. The USGA and TV media partners will do all they can to avoid covering any blunt messages to the guys with the bulging bank accounts, so we’ll probably have to read about it Monday.

Mumford: My pick is Scottie Scheffler and yes, I expect all of the LIV Golf players will be booed and heckled. Heck, it’s Boston – they’d boo their own grandmother there if she looked sideways. The golf media isn’t taking it easy on the LIV Golf defectors either. I’d love to know what the players are saying to each other.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

3 thoughts on “U.S. Open takes centre stage as LIV Golf controversy escalates

    1. Would that have anything to do with the fact that he’s 2 back of the leaders heading into the final round of the U.S. Open?

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