Latest hurdle for 3M Open and PGA Tour is losing big names to LIV Golf

In its first four years as a PGA Tour event, the 3M Open was played either over the July 4 holiday weekend or the week immediately after the British Open.

Two of those events at the TPC in Blaine were reimagined because of the pandemic, including one that conflicted with last summer’s Olympics.

Now the 3M Open has a field limited by the defection and subsequent suspension or resignation of 24 players who left the PGA Tour for the ultra-wealthy Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour — a burst of change this summer that has reshaped professional golf worldwide.

Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and inaugural champion Matthew Wolff all played at least one 3M Open.

None will be in Minnesota this week for the tournament, which starts Thursday.

Tournament executive director Hollis Cavner categorized many players who have jumped to LIV Golf as “most everybody who has taken it is at the end of their career or they never had a career and they’re done.”

He called the allure of moving from the PGA Tour to an organization that has eight events in its inaugural season “life-changing money.” LIV Golf has far fewer events, 54-hole tournaments, no cuts, shotgun starts and a reported $130 million-plus guaranteed for the new tour’s biggest names — and plenty for everyone else.

“We’ve lost a few golfers, there’s no doubt,” Cavner said.

The 3M Open will feature past major champions Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Stewart Cink, Danny Willett, Jason Dufner and Lucas Glover. Also in the field are Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, defending champion Cameron Champ and Adam Hadwin, who finished seventh at last month’s U.S. Open.

Matsuyama (14th), Finau (17th) and Im (23rd) are ranked in the world’s top 25.

Thirty-five players committed to play at TPC Twin Cities have won a PGA Tour event since 2019. Seven have won this season, including Im and Matsuyama last fall; Fargo’s Tom Hoge at Pebble Beach in February; and J.T. Poston at the John Deere Classic three weeks ago.

Cavner offered a sponsor’s exemption to long-hitting Korn Ferry tour player Brandon Matthews. Charismatic rookie Sahith Theegala, who tied with Poston for second at the Travelers last month, has committed to play. He made the cut at the British Open after replacing the injured Daniel Berger.

“These guys are the hot golfers right now,” Cavner said.

The Wall Street Journal last week reported the Department of Justice is investigating whether the PGA Tour responded to LIV Golf’s threat by engaging in potential anti-competitive behavior.

The PGA Tour has responded both with suspensions and a combined $54 million increase in purses for eight of their biggest events, including the Players Championship as well as the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournaments. Cavner called the upstart LIV Golf “an exhibition tour” that he said he doubts will be around in two years.

“There’s no way LIV Golf can make money; the numbers just don’t work,” Cavner said. “Guys are getting paid to show up and there’s no risk. The best players in the world are all saying they want to go and beat the best.”

He praised those who have stayed on the PGA Tour, particularly those who have won this season and last and are headed to Blaine for the chance to win again. Cavner said he and his staff have been on the road week after week, recruiting players to come to Minnesota.

“Players want to come here,” he said. “They like it here.”

A flight has been chartered to bring players back Sunday night from the British Open’s final day to make the travel and the process easier.

“We’ve done all we can within the boundaries we’re given,” Cavner said. “We feel we’re in a great place, we really do.”