Hughes feels for fans amid ‘circus’ that is golf

There is a strong argument to be made that Mackenzie Hughes has benefitted as much as any player from Jon Rahm‘s departure from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf.

At No. 51 after last year’s Tour Championship, Hughes fell one spot shy of qualifying for all eight signature events in 2024. Then Rahm sent shockwaves through the professional golf world by flipping on his long-standing stiff-arm of LIV and signing with the Saudi-backed league on Dec. 7.

The PGA Tour reacted by immediately suspending Rahm. The net result for Hughes was a bump into the 50th spot. He is in Hawaii this week, competing in the first signature event of the year featuring a $20 million purse.

“Obviously, being the 51st guy I just needed one guy to go, I didn’t need 12 guys and a mass exodus, so I definitely thought there was a chance there,” Hughes said on Tuesday. “I was home for Thanksgiving. I heard the Rahm stuff start to circulate on Twitter. … It seemed like a long time those rumors were flying around for awhile, and we never really heard what was happening one way or the other.

“Then he finally announced it. I knew before, well before he announced that he was going, what was going to happen if he did go.”

Hughes said he appreciates the tour acting swiftly and providing clarity to his situation. As a player who has been outspoken about his concern for the game’s fans, clarity is something the Canadian would like to see far more of.

Hughes reminisced about 2019, before the pandemic interrupted professional golf, only to be followed by the disruption caused by LIV.

“(That year) to me was like the peak of, like, professional golf,” he said. “2019 was, like, all about golf, you know? Our economic model was sustainable. The LIV threat came along and all of a sudden we started to double the purses, and we’re asking sponsors to double their investment, and we’re giving them the same product.

“Fans also, I think, are left wondering, like, do guys even love playing golf anymore, or are they all just concerned about money? All these guys going to LIV have made it pretty clear that it’s all about money. I mean, growing the game, but also money.

“I just think that the product, I mean, while I think it’s great, it’s the same product. I just think fans are kind of left scratching their head thinking, like, ‘What is going on?'”

The day after Rahm officially signed with LIV, Hughes took to social media with a series of tweets detailing his views of the “sad place” men’s professional golf is in. He sympathized with the anger shared by many golf fans.

“They also don’t know where certain guys are playing and there’s spats between the LIV and the PGA Tour, and it’s not unified in any way, shape, or form,” he said Tuesday. “There’s negotiations going on that are unclear, they have been dragged on for a long time.

“The fan just wants to watch golf. I think you watch sports for an escape from other nonsense, but I think golf has brought a lot of nonsense onto its plate, and now you don’t get just golf, you get a lot of other stuff going on.

“It’s a bit of a circus.”

A two-time winner who enters 2024 ranked 66th in the world, Hughes is a member of the tour’s player advisory committee but has little insight into the negotiations with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. A journeyman of sorts, he does worry about the game’s fans.

And like the fans, Hughes hopes to see the game’s brightest stars competing on the biggest stages, whatever tour they might call home. But he also doesn’t know how realistic that vision for the future is, with the biggest sticking points being the lucrative offers several stars turned down to stay loyal to the PGA Tour.

“There is an outcome I root for, but I don’t know how we get there. I’m sure that’s what the tour is wrestling with as well,” he said. “The outcome I hope for is that there is a way for the tours to obviously co-exist, and there’s some sort of unity and there’s not a huge rift between ’em. There’s like some way that there’s, not a pathway, but there’s just sort of a little more of a free-flowing pass back and forth.

“The tour obviously misses guys like Brooks Koepka, Phil (Mickelson), (Dustin Johnson), Cam Smith. … There’s no doubt that the tour is stronger with those guys playing.

“If Brooks came back tomorrow, I would be all right. Because I wasn’t offered a huge amount of money to go play on LIV, and nor was I interested. But there were other guys that seriously entertained it and were probably told, ‘Hey, like, stay put. Like, it’s going to be fine over here. This is where you should be.’ Then now we’re doing a deal with the PIF and it’s, like, maybe those guys should have just done it.

“So, I don’t know how you make those guys feel as though this is the right thing to do. I think deep down they would know it’s best for the game they should be back over here, but how do you justify to them, like, ‘OK, they made $150 million, and now they’re going to come back and play on your tour like nothing ever happened.’

“I just don’t know how that gets navigated. But that’s the outcome I hope for … and it becomes about who is playing the best golf, who is playing the best golf in the biggest tournaments, and you start talking about major moments in golf, not just major moments in the headlines or on Fox News when Jon Rahm says he’s going to LIV Golf.

“How do you make everyone happy? You can’t. The way forward I hope is smoother, but I know it will be messy before it gets smooth again.”

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