Early in Sunday’s broadcast of the Canadian Open, CBS brought in PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on to discuss the Saudi-funded rival that debuted this week and has poached a few big names with more expected to defect over the course of the year.
The interview was pretty much a disaster for Monahan, who got off one good line — “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?” — but offered little substance in arguing why players shouldn’t take the massive paydays being 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 for why the PGA Tour is worth saving.
There were no gimmicks, no funky formats, no questions about where the money is coming 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 haymakers all over the St. George’s Golf and Country Club outside of Toronto while former US Open and Olympic champion Justin Rose shot a scintillating 60 to finish in a tie for fourth.
Outside of the major championships, it was about as good as it gets for a regular week on the PGA Tour. And when McIlroy finished it out with a birdie for a 62 and a two-shot victory, he threw down the gauntlet so powerfully that it could heard all the way to Riyadh.
“This is a day I’ll remember for a long, long time,” McIlroy said on CBS. “Twenty-first PGA Tour win. One more than someone else. That gave me a little bit of extra incentive today and happy to get it done.”
That someone else would be Gregory John Norman, the former world No. 1 who is now running the show for the Saudis and using their 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 of the PGA Tour. He also happens to be the best advocate it could have: Relatable, intellectually curious, insightful and extremely popular. Beyond his ability to hit drivers and irons, McIlroy’s talent is that he’s more human being than golf robot. How naturally he threw shade at Norman, who had chosen to be the front man for a reprehensible sportswashing 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 that savagely right now in order to maintain its preeminence in the sport.
Sure, you can write off Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell as has-beens, Dustin Johnson as a vapid man of little intellect and Patrick Reed as addition by subtraction from the PGA Tour. But with the hundreds of millions in guaranteed money LIV is offering 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 far more from its commissioner than an interview on CBS where he derides LIV as exhibition golf and touts the purity of competition on his own tour. None of that moves the needle at all, but for some reason Monahan can’t bring himself to tell the truth here.
The PGA Tour was not created on Mount Sinai and handed down on stone tablets. It’s a business, and in order to extract the maximum value out of that business, it needs to be the exclusive home for the best players in the world.
Certainly, there are weeks on the PGA Tour where the leaderboards aren’t particularly attractive, the venues are mediocre and there isn’t much to draw an audience. But the reason golf courses all over the continent want to host PGA Tour events and companies buy television ads is because it’s the only place you’re going to get a day like Sunday when major champions like McIlroy and Thomas are battling down the stretch.
If the PGA Tour can’t offer that exclusivity, what does it really have? And if it allows its most valuable members to take the Saudi money without 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 issues players might have over partnering with the Saudi regime, that’s the real issue for the Tour. How do you sell an almost year-round schedule to sponsors, ticket buyers and television partners when the biggest draws are prioritizing LIV and the majors?
That’s the truth of why the PGA Tour can’t just allow players to participate in LIV while retaining membership, and yet Monahan in his CBS interview couldn’t bring himself to lay it out on those terms. Unfortunately, his argument about purity of his tour’s competition and the gimmicky nature of the LIV product with its 54-hole tournaments and shotgun starts is not likely to move the needle at all for players who want to make more guaranteed money while working less.
In that respect, the PGA Tour doesn’t stand a chance here. If players can rationalize being stooges for the Saudi Arabian government, it’s just a flat-out better deal for them.
But it’s difficult for Monahan to make the competition argument in a way that resonates. Only the top players can do that because they have determined that the PGA Tour is the place to show that they’re the best in the world.
If the Tour needs to make changes in order to preserve that status, so be it. But as arguably the biggest talent of his generation, McIlroy’s voice carries a lot of weight. For him to win this week, in such entertaining fashion, while taking a shot at Norman and doubling down on his commitment to the PGA Tour, is the best thing that could have happened for Monahan.
Sometimes, the product needs to speak for itself. This week, it absolutely did.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rory McIlroy throws shade at Greg Norman after Canadian Open win