Early on Sunday’s broadcast of the Canadian Open, CBS brought in PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan to talk about the Saudi-funded rival who debuted this week and has hunted down some big names with more expected to defect along the way. of the year.
The interview was pretty much a disaster for Monahan, who had a good line: “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?” – But he offered little substance in arguing why players shouldn’t accept the massive paydays offered by LIV Golf.
Instead, he should have let Rory McIlroy do the talking.
At the end of what has been a difficult week for the fractured professional golf community, the final round of the Canadian Open offered the best argument yet for why the PGA Tour is worth saving.
There were no tricks, no original formats, no questions about where the money comes from. It was just four hours of great golf with three of the best players in the world – McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau – throwing hay around St. George’s Golf and Country Club outside of Toronto, while the former Olympic and world champion US Open Justin Rose shot a brilliant 60 to finish tied for fourth place.
Outside of the major championships, it was as good as a regular week on the PGA Tour. And when McIlroy finished with a birdie for a 62 and a two-stroke victory, he threw the glove so hard he could be heard all the way to Riyadh.
“This is a day I will remember for a long, long time,” McIlroy said on CBS. “Twenty-first win on the PGA Tour. One more than another. That gave me a little extra incentive today and I’m happy to do it.”
That other would be Gregory John Norman, the former World No. 1 who is now running the show for the Saudis and using his open checkbook to bring the PGA Tour to its knees.
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Among the current group of elite players, McIlroy has probably been the most outspoken in defense on the PGA Tour. He also happens to be the best advocate he could have: relatable, intellectually curious, insightful, and extremely popular. Beyond his ability to hit drivers and irons, McIlroy’s talent is that he is more human than golf robot. The nonchalance with which he threw shades at Norman, who has chosen to be the front man for a reprehensible sportswear laundering operation, was the greatest gift he could have given the game of golf on this particular day.
And make no mistake, the PGA Tour absolutely needs to be defended so savagely right now to maintain its pre-eminence in the sport.
Sure, you can write off Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell as old men, Dustin Johnson as a vapid man of little intellect and Patrick Reed as PGA Tour subtraction. But with the hundreds of millions in guaranteed money that LIV offers to various players, there is a tipping point somewhere that resets the entire paradigm of professional golf.
This is a real threat, and the PGA Tour needs a lot more from its commissioner than an interview on CBS mocking LIV as exhibition golf and touting the purity of competition on its own course. None of that moves the needle at all, but for some reason, Monahan can’t bring herself to tell the truth here.
The PGA Tour was not created on Mount Sinai and handed down on tablets of stone. It is a business, and to extract maximum value from that business, it must be the exclusive home of the best players in the world.
Certainly, there are weeks on the PGA Tour where the leaderboards aren’t particularly attractive, the venues are lackluster, and there isn’t much to draw an audience. But the reason golf courses across the continent want to host PGA Tour events and companies buy TV ads is because it’s the only place you’re going to have a day like Sunday where great champions like McIlroy and Thomas are struggling down the stretch.
If the PGA Tour can’t offer that exclusivity, what does it really have? And if you allow your most valuable members to take the Saudi money with no repercussions, what incentive do they have to play events like the Canadian Open or the John Deere Classic or the 3M Open?
Regardless of any moral issue players may have about associating themselves with the Saudi regime, that is the real issue for the Tour. How do you sell a nearly year-round schedule to sponsors, ticket buyers and TV partners when the biggest draws prioritize LIV and the big leagues?
That is the truth of why the PGA Tour cannot simply allow players to participate in LIV while retaining membership, and yet Monahan in his interview with CBS was hesitant to put it in those terms. Unfortunately, his argument about the purity of his tour’s competition and the gimmicky nature of the LIV product with its 54-hole, quick-start tournaments isn’t likely to move the needle for players who want to make more guaranteed money while working less. .
In that sense, the PGA Tour doesn’t stand a chance here. If the players can rationalize being a stooge of the Saudi Arabian government, it’s simply a better deal for them.
But it’s hard for Monahan to present the competition argument in a way that resonates. Only the best players can do that because they have determined that the PGA Tour is the place to prove that they are the best in the world.
If the Tour needs to make changes to preserve that status, so be it. But since he’s arguably the biggest talent of his generation, McIlroy’s voice carries a lot of weight. For him to win this week, in such an entertaining way, while giving Norman a chance and doubling his commitment to the PGA Tour, is the best thing that could have happened to Monahan.
Sometimes the product needs to speak for itself. This week, it absolutely did.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rory McIlroy criticizes Greg Norman after winning the Canadian Open