At the end of what Jay Monahan almost euphemistically described as “an unfortunate week”, the PGA tour’s commissioner could hardly have scripted a better Sunday.
While the Canadian Open began on Thursday with more chatter about who wasn’t there than who was, what ended up as one of the best tournaments of the year saw a victorious Rory McIlroy dueling with Justin Thomas over the course of a wholly entertaining few hours.
Charl Schwartzel, whose previous claim to fame was perhaps being the most anonymous Masters winner of the modern era, may have banked the biggest ever pay-day in golf at the first event of the upstart LIV Golf tour, but ultimately no amount of Saudi dollars could buy the product on offer in Toronto.
With McIlroy’s wedges of all things providing the star attraction, the new world number three and recent PGA Championship winner Thomas went blow for blow in rounds that finished up as a 62 and 64, respectively.
At one point over a six-hole stretch, the pair combined for 11 birdies with the close friends forming something of a mutual admiration society as they went around, patting each other on the back after each bombed drive and sunk putt.
For the quality of golf on show in front of packed galleries thrilled to have their national Open back after a Covid-enforced absence, it was the fact that we had not just two of the best golfers in the world but the two most prominent supporters of the PGA Tour going toe to toe that felt most timely.
The LIV tour, featuring the likes of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and our own Graeme McDowell, had been the uninvited guest at the party, hanging over proceedings like a cloud.
The contrast to the two events could hardly have been starker. Even for those who weren’t immediately turned off by the unabashed sportswashing and unashamed greed of those involved, the week at the Centurion Golf Club felt like a theatre of the macabre.
Players squirmed in press conferences and offered clumsy answers when asked about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and if they’d given any thought to where their guaranteed prize money was coming from while, when away from the unwanted questions of pesky journalists, the tournament’s own social media made the players look more Alan Partridge than Arnold Palmer.
With tickets being given away in numbers rivalled only by the dollars on offer, it was perhaps no surprise that those on the ground reported the atmosphere to be decidedly flat.
Still, there was an unavoidable sense that if this tournament mattered little in a strictly sporting sense, its importance to the sport of golf remained as yet unquantifiable.
If anyone thought that what was unfolding outside of London wasn’t on the minds of the players that have nailed their colours to the PGA’s mast out in Canada, one only had to hear Rory make reference to this win taking him past LIV CEO and pitchman Greg Norman on the list of all-time tour wins to know how much the strands of these tournaments were intertwined.
With the exception of DJ, who himself hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since he fulfilled a life-long dream by winning the Masters of 2020, most of those doing such damage to their reputations were largely being characterised as either a has-beens or a never-was.
There were those who have clearly accepted they’ll never win a Major like Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, those like McDowell, Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer who have accepted they’ll never win another, and finally those requiring nametags (not an exaggerated slight; releases misspelled players’ names).
But while we were all expected to be emotionally invested in whether the Majesticks, the Niblicks or the Hy Flyers won the team event (for posterity, it was actually the Stingers), more worrisome developments were afoot for Monahan behind the scenes.
Most of those taking part and subsequently now banned from the PGA tour are no great loss but the news that Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, number 29 and 38 in the world respectively, will be there at the next stop at Portland is an ominous turn. Having allowed others to take the brunt of the negative PR last week, the idea that other, bigger names are waiting in the wings to jump on the bandwagon once the heat has died down can only frighten the status quo.
At the US Open this week, a tournament run by the USGA, not the PGA, and where a number of LIV players had already qualified through rankings or exemptions, the field will be unaffected for perhaps the last time.
With money no object, no need to turn any profit, and crucially already proof that a sufficient number of players are willing to lie to themselves that this is growing the game, LIV golf is likely going nowhere over the duration of the five-year contracts that have been signed.
The golf world is fractured, perhaps irrecoverably so, and McIlroy’s most welcome of victories only brought to mind that old phrase about battles and wars.