At PGA Tournament, All Anyone Wants to Talk About Is LIV Golf

As the PGA’s Canadian Open tournament kicked off, the talk wasn’t about the playing conditions, the $9 million total prize purse or the smoky skies — it was all about LIV Golf.

(Bloomberg) — As the PGA’s Canadian Open tournament kicked off, the talk wasn’t about the playing conditions, the $9 million total prize purse or the smoky skies — it was all about LIV Golf.  

The 119-year-old tournament in Toronto, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, is the first to take place in the aftermath of the shock news earlier this week that PGA Tour Inc. was merging with Saudi-backed LIV Golf. The deal will unite two golf leagues that had been locked in a bitter rivalry that included lawsuits, antitrust allegations and billions of dollars. 

Defending champion Rory McIlroy, the world’s third-ranked player, said he and England’s Justin Rose agreed not to talk about the merger while they walked down the first hole of the day. The deal irked both players.

McIlroy told reporters Wednesday that he hated LIV, but thought the deal would be good for the sport over the long run. On Thursday, the Northern Irish golfer had some kinder words for Yasir Al-Rumayyan, head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the man who will be chairman of the merged entity. 

“I think he really does like the game of golf, he likes playing it,” McIlroy said, adding they had previously golfed together in Dubai. He called his new chairman “a very smart, impressive man.” McIlroy finished one stroke better than par.

Read More: McIlroy Still Hates LIV, But Says PGA Deal Is Good for Sport 

“The headlines made it seem like it was going to be this very smooth transition, like ‘Come on back, boys,’ and I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” Rose told reporters, adding the deal “came out of left field.” He said many details would need to be ironed out.

PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan this week said the league was open to the possibility of making players whole who had turned down millions of dollars to join LIV Golf a year ago. “Ultimately, what you’re talking about is an equalization over time, and I think that’s a fair and reasonable concept,” he said Tuesday, according to a transcript. 

Monahan also said he understands that many PGA players were furious about the announcement. 

England’s Aaron Rai said he learned about the merger from his caddy while they were playing a practice round in Toronto on Tuesday.

Sponsors have also struggled to respond to the sudden change, which brought an abrupt end to lawsuits between the two entities. LIV sued the PGA last year for allegedly engaging in monopolistic behavior. The PGA Tour countersued, saying LIV illegally pushed players to break contracts with the legacy US-based tour by offering them exorbitant sums of money. 

RBC, the title sponsor of this week’s event, is “currently working through the implications of this announcement,” spokesperson Fiona Anderson said in an email, declining to comment further.

Under the canopy of mature trees in Toronto’s northern suburbs, the golfers tried to play through the deal talk and also the lingering smoke from nearby wildfires. The Oakdale Golf and Country Club in North York is a sprawling 27-hole course that players called “quirky,” a professional-golf description of protruding greens at the top of unforgiving slopes interspersed between the green rolling hills.

Out of sight, the course also boasts a pool and — since this is Canada — a skating rink for the winter.

Hundreds of fans trailed McIlroy down the fairways Thursday, cheering his every swing. Between the tee-box and the greens, however, a lot of talk focused on LIV.

“I think it’s taking a bit of the oxygen in the room,” said Marc Sheardown, a fan from nearby Hamilton, Ontario. “It’s taken a bit away from the event.” 

A handful of fans boisterously chanted “LIV, LIV, LIV!” at the 18th green, drawing some groans from a crowd of otherwise silent hundreds that had gathered to watch McIlroy’s approach.

While McIlroy drew the biggest crowds, Canadian Corey Conners had vocal supporters on the course. “Hopefully we can see a Canadian win for the first time in a long time,” Sheardown said. Conners finished the first round five strokes under par and tied for first place. 

The winner takes home a $1.62 million prize. The last time a Canadian won the tournament was in 1954.  

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