3M Open Head tears players leaving PGA Tour, calls Saudi Golf ‘a pain’

The kid with the quirky swing who made his name as the first winner of the 3M Open three summers ago won’t be with Blaine in 2022.

He may never serve in a PGA Tour event again.

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

“It’s life-changing money for these guys; I look at the guys who took it and almost all . . . is at the end of her career or has never had a career and is kind of done.”

Hollis Cavner, 3M Open Director

Full of promise, fresh out of the state of Oklahoma, Wolff’s jerky backswing rose to No. 12 in the world rankings after winning the 2019 3M Open and subsequent successes. But he soon began to fade down the course and took a 10-month hiatus in 2021 to deal with his mental health. He shot for 15th place in two rounds at the Masters in April, and his tie for 40th place at the Travelers Championship last week was his first cut in six weeks. He is currently number 77 in the world.

“I’m disappointed that Wolffie went down this route,” said 3M Open chief executive Hollis Cavner on Monday. “He’s struggling, let’s be honest, and he just chose to take the easy money and go rather than not playing through well and fighting things along those lines.

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

Wolff’s decision to join LIV Golf has long been rumoured, and he is among the youngest players on the PGA Tour to leave the company. This week’s field at Pumpkin Ridge includes lifetime Major winners Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson. All PGA Tour players who chose to play LIV events have been suspended by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. Some, like Johnson, have canceled their membership. Others, like Mickelson, stand their ground.

At the other end of the scale are events like the $7.5 million 3M Open, whose field list is being impacted by LIV players no longer making weekly appearances.

“The Saudi Golf League is a pain,” said Cavner, who also described it as “show golf” and predicted its end in two years. “We lost some players to them but we will win the long fight. After 30 years, I have the utmost faith in the PGA Tour and what we’re up to and how we’re going about it. “

A first field update released Monday of the 3M Open touts big winners Danny Willett, Jason Dufner and Lucas Glover, as well as 32 players with wins in the last two seasons such as Sungjae Im, Fargo’s Tom Hoge, Tony Finau and defending 3M winner Cameron Champion.

Brandon Matthews — known for booming 350-yard rides on the Korn Ferry Tour — has accepted a sponsorship exception along with former amateur No. 1 Cole Hammer (now a pro) and Edina native Mardy Fish. The 2004 Olympic Games silver medalist is better known for his tennis skills and plays with a handicap index of plus 2.8.

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

Cavner hinted that a few more “top 20 player types” could sign up for the July 21-24 tournament, which is again taking place in the week immediately following the British Open. As in the past, Cavner chartered a transatlantic flight for players and spent last week in Connecticut promoting on the Travelers Championship driving range.

The difference this year is the number of players determined to sidestep the 3M Open and all other PGA Tour events.

“Do I agree with her business decision and her life decision? No I don’t,” Cavner said. “But I won’t treat her any differently. I could make them buy dinner because they have all the money in the world, but I hate when some of them leave.”