KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Patrick Cantlay reads as much as anyone in golf, usually deep-think topics such as “Why We Sleep” or the Winston Churchill trilogy. The internet gossip on LIV Golf, in which his name is often mentioned, is what he leaves to everyone else.
Cantlay knows about the speculation only because of the questions he gets, and he can only assume his name keeps surfacing because he has been neither emotional nor outspoken about the Saudi-funded rival tour.
“Guys, for the most part, seem like they’re pretty polarized on this issue, and I view it as it’s been a competition for top talent, like any other business,” Cantlay said ahead of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the first event of an important year on the PGA Tour.
“But I have no plans to do that as of now, which has been my stance … the whole time.”
There is no denying the effect of this competition from LIV Golf, which already has lured away 13 major champions, even though only four of those major winners are under the age of 35.
One example can be found at Kapalua along the rugged coastline of Maui, the first of the “elevated” tournaments in a PGA Tour schedule designed to bring together the best players up to 17 times a year competing for an average of $20 million.
“I think that it’s been interesting how much it’s changed golf,” Cantlay said. “Everyone is trying to innovate and make golf better all of a sudden. I think that will be a massive benefit for the viewer because I think now more than ever competition is making people evolve and making people grow and think outside the box.”
Kapalua is worth only $15 million because of the 39-man field comprising PGA Tour winners from last year and anyone who reached the Tour Championship. Even so, it’s a big upgrade from the $8.2 million purse a year ago.
“I think we all know where we stand,” Jon Rahm said. “There’s still going to be players that choose to transition to LIV, is my guess. But for a lot of us, I think we see the direction the PGA Tour is going. They’re making the necessary changes to adapt to the new age and I think it’s better for everybody.”
It’s certainly sweet for those who made it to Kapalua. For starters, it means they either won a tournament or did well enough to reach the FedEx Cup finale. The Plantation Course at Kapalua looks as good as ever, and the weather forecast is just as good.
And there should be enough wind to keep scores from getting crazy low like last year, when Cameron Smith set the PGA Tour record to par at 34 under to beat Rahm by one.
But a new year with its bold new schedule has not kept LIV from the conversation.
Smith is not defending his title because the PGA Tour suspended the British Open champion — and The Players Championship winner — when he signed with LIV Golf after last season. Smith and Joaquin Niemann were the last prominent players to join.
Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were mentioned at times over the last few months, no report with any veracity. Cantlay once said that if something is happening on social media, then he doesn’t know it’s happening.
Both have been making plans for a full PGA Tour schedule. Schauffele is one of his best friends and said of Cantlay, “What no one would know about Pat is that hands down, he is the most invested individual in making this right.”
Cantlay has another hat to wear this year. He has been added as a player-director on the PGA Tour board for a most important year. For all the upgrades, this year has been described by those in meetings as merely a bridge to get to 2024.
Still to be decided going forward is the size of fields and a qualifying process for getting into the all-star events.
“It’s very important to me to make sure in my capacity as a board member — which I haven’t had a meeting yet — that I do the absolute best possible for getting this new schedule as good as possible, and getting it right. It’s of the utmost importance to me, and probably the No. 1 issue for me considering I’m going on the board.”
And then there’s the matter of golf at Kapalua, different from any other course on the PGA Tour with its severe elevation and unmatched views of the Pacific.
Missing from the field are Shane Lowry of Ireland and Rory McIlroy, one of the strongest voices against LIV Golf. Each player is allowed to skip one elevated event and still collect his bonus money from the Player Impact Program.
Cantlay never liked the PIP, though he managed to climb into the top 20 and he eligible for $2 million by meeting his obligations. He was asked if he’d rather study the metrics used for the PIP or read about LIV.
“I think I know how the PIP works,” Cantlay said. “And it’s still more interesting than the LIV rumors.”
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