GOLF

3M Open Head rips players leaving PGA Tour, calls Saudi golf ‘pain’

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The offbeat swinging kid who made a name for himself three summers ago as the inaugural 3M Open winner won’t be back at Blaine in 2022.

He may never compete in a PGA Tour event again.

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On Monday, Matthew Wolff was among the latest players to defect to LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed big-money league that has taken over the conversation about professional golf. Wolff, 23, was added to this week’s $20 million LIV event at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Oregon, the first to take place in the United States.

β€œIt’s money that changes these guys’ lives; I look at the guys who took it, and almost everyone. . . is at the end of his career or never had a career and is kind of finished.

Hollis Cavner, 3M Omnium Manager

Full of promise fresh out of Oklahoma State, Wolff and his choppy backswing shot up to No. 12 in the world on the heels of that 3M Open win in 2019 and subsequent success. But he quickly began to fade on and off the course, taking a 10-month break in 2021 to deal with his sanity. He shot 15 runs in two sets at the Masters in April and his 40th-place finish in last week’s Travelers Championship was his first cut in six weeks. He is currently world No. 77.

“I’m disappointed that Wolffie went this route,” 3M Open executive director Hollis Cavner said Monday. “He’s struggling, let’s face it, and he just decided to take the easy money and walk away instead of fighting by not playing well and things along those lines.

“It’s life-changing money for these guys; I look at the guys who’ve taken it, and almost everyone…is at the end of their career or never had a career and is kind of over. I understand where they’re coming from but I hate it.”

Wolff’s decision to join LIV Golf has long been rumored and he is among the youngest PGA Tour players to leave. This week’s field at Pumpkin Ridge includes lifetime winners Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson. All PGA Tour players opting into LIV events have been suspended by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. Some, like Johnson, resigned from their membership. Others, like Mickelson, are holding on.

On the other end of it all are events like the $7.5 million 3M Open, which sees its roster hurt by LIV players no longer making weekly appearances.

“The Saudi Golf League is a pain,” said Cavner, who also called it “exhibition golf” and predicted its demise in two years. “We’ve lost a few players to them, but we’re going to win the long battle. After 30 years of doing this, I have the utmost confidence in the PGA Tour and what we have and how we run it.”

A first on-court update released by the 3M Open on Monday boasts big winners Danny Willett, Jason Dufner and Lucas Glover in addition to 32 players with wins over the past two seasons such as Sungjae Im, Fargo’s Tom Hoge, Tony Finau and the reigning winner of 3M Cameron. Field.

Brandon Matthews – known for his soaring 350 yards on the Korn Ferry Tour – accepted a sponsor exemption along with former No. 1 amateur Cole Hammer (now pro) and Edina native Mardy Fish. Best known for his tennis prowess, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist plays with a handicap index of plus-2.8.

“We wanted to do something different. See how he would compete,” Cavner said. “He’s not going to embarrass himself.”

Cavner hinted that other names from the “top 20 player types” could still sign up for the July 21-24 tournament, which will be held again the week directly following the British Open. As in the past, Cavner chartered a transatlantic flight for the players and spent the past week in Connecticut wooing at the Travelers Championship driving range.

The difference this year is how many players are determined to bypass the 3M Open and all the other PGA Tour events.

“Do I agree with their business decision and their life decision? No, I’m not,” Cavner said. “But I’m not going to treat them any different. I could make them pay for dinner because they have all the money in the world, but I hate to see some of them go.”

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