3M Open director Hollis Cavner rips players leaving PGA Tour, calls Saudi Golf League 'a pain'

3M Open director Hollis Cavner rips players leaving PGA Tour, calls Saudi Golf League ‘a pain’

The kid with a quirky swing who made a name for himself three summers ago as the first winner of the 3M Open will not be back in Blaine in 2022.

He might never tee up in a PGA Tour event again.

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 professional golf conversation. Wolff, 23, was added to this week’s $20 million LIV event at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Ore., the first to take place in the U.S.

“It’s life-changing money for these guys; I look at the guys who’ve taken it, and almost everybody . . . is at the end of their career or never had a career and are kind of done.”

Hollis Cavner, 3M Open director

Full of promise fresh out of Oklahoma State, Wolff and his herky-jerky backswing rose to No. 12 in the world rankings on the heels of that 3M Open win in 2019 and subsequent successes. But he soon began to fade on the course and off, taking a 10-month hiatus in 2021 to deal with his mental health. He shot 15 over through two rounds at the Masters in April and his tie for 40th at last week’s Travelers Championship was his first made cut in six weeks. He’s currently No. 77 in the world.

“I’m disappointed that Wolffie went that way,” 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 go instead of fighting through not playing well and things along that line.

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

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

At the other end of it all are events like the $7.5 million 3M Open, which is seeing its field list hurt by LIV players no longer making appearances on a weekly basis.

“The Saudi Golf League is a pain,” said Cavner, who also referred to it as “exhibition golf” and predicted its demise in two years. “We’ve lost some 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 going on and how we’re handling it.”

An initial field update released by the 3M Open on Monday touts major winners Danny Willett, Jason Dufner and Lucas Glover in addition to 32 players with wins within the past two seasons such as Sungjae Im, Fargo’s Tom Hoge, Tony Finau and defending 3M winner Cameron Champ.

Brandon Matthews — known for booming 350-yard drives on the Korn Ferry Tour — has accepted a sponsor’s exemption along with former No. 1 amateur Cole Hammer (now a professional) and Edina native Mardy Fish. Better known for his tennis prowess, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist plays to a plus-2.8 Handicap Index.

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

Cavner hinted some more “top-20 player type” names still could commit to the July 21-24 tournament, which is once again being held the week directly following the British Open. As in the past, Cavner has chartered a transatlantic flight for players and spent last week in Connecticut wooing on the Travelers Championship driving range.

The difference this year is the number of players with their minds made up to bypass the 3M Open and all other PGA Tour events.

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

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