The rivalry between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf has Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes deeply worried about the state of men’s professional golf.
Hughes tweeted about his concerns in early December, hours after world No. 1 Jon Rahm announced that he was leaving the PGA Tour for LIV Golf. Although Rahm’s departure moved Hughes up to No. 50 on the PGA Tour’s rankings and into the circuit’s US$20 million signature events, he still felt that men’s golf was in “a sad place.”
The 33-year-old from Dundas, Ont., expanded on those thoughts this week ahead of The Sentry, the first tournament of the 2024 PGA Tour season, an event he only qualified for because of Rahm’s defection. He said that it feels like 2019 was the peak of men’s golf and the PGA-LIV rivalry has put the focus on money and potentially alienated fans.
“Our economic model was sustainable. The LIV threat came along and all of a sudden we started to double the purses, and we’re asking sponsors to double their investment, and we’re giving them the same product,” said Hughes at a news conference from the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii. “Fans also, I think, are left wondering, ‘Do guys even love playing golf anymore? Or are they all just concerned about money?’
“All these guys going to LIV have made it pretty clear that it’s all about money. I mean, growing the game, but also money. So, to me, that’s disappointing.”
The PGA Tour introduced big money “signature events” last year to entice golfers to stay with the circuit. Hughes said that model is not sustainable because it means tournament sponsors have to double their financial undertaking without the product changing in any significant way.
“It would be silly for me not to play in these events, they are great opportunities, but, I just don’t think it’s right,” said Hughes, who is a member of the PGA Tour’s player advisory council along with Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont. “Again, we have the same product that we had in 2019, yet we want this increased investment, not just increased, but increased in a big way.”
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced on June 6, two days before the RBC Canadian Open teed off, that the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — which owns LIV Golf — had agreed to a merger. The details of that agreement were supposed to be finalized by Sunday, but that deadline came and went with no update except that negotiations had been extended.
“(Fans) don’t know where certain guys are playing and there’s spats between the LIV and the PGA Tour, and it’s not unified in any way, shape, or form,” said Hughes. “There’s negotiations going on that are unclear, they have been dragged on for a long time.”
Hughes said on Tuesday that he felt compelled to speak up because he thinks the whole process could alienate viewers.
“The fan just wants to watch golf,” said Hughes. “I think you watch sports for an escape from other nonsense, but I think golf has brought a lot of nonsense onto its plate, and now you don’t get just golf, you get a lot of other stuff going on. It’s a bit of a circus.”
Hughes and Conners are joined at the Sentry this week by Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., as well as Adam Hadwin and reigning Canadian Open champion Nick Taylor, both of whom are from Abbotsford, B.C.
Taylor, who will be making his third appearance at The Sentry, said he took most of December off to spend Christmas back home in Canada.
“I’m going to be as prepared as I possibly can be, but I’ve probably played my best at times with low expectations,” said Taylor. “I’m trying to win this week, but knowing it’s the first event of the year there’s going to be a little bit of rust, I’m sure, for a lot of people.
“I’ve been here since the 29th, I played nine every day, so that’s going to help me kind of ease into the tournament. It’s always a treat to be here, I don’t care how many times you come.”