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

The twisted-swing kid who made a name for himself three summers ago as the first 3M Open winner won’t be returning to Blaine in 2022.

He may never participate in a PGA Tour event again.

On Monday, Matthew Wolff was among the latest players to defect from Leaf golfThe Saudi-backed big money league that dominated the professional golf conversation. Wolf, 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 U.S.

“It’s money that’s going to change the lives of these guys; I look at the people who took it, almost everyone . . . at the end of their career or had no career at all and kind of done it.”

Hollis Kavner, Director of 3M Open

Filled with new promise from Oklahoma State, Wolf and his jerky appearance rose to No. 12 in the rankings in the aftermath 3M Open wins in 2019 and subsequent successes. But he soon began fading into his track and interruption, taking a 10-month pause in 2021 to deal with his mental health. He fired 15 times during two rounds of the Masters in April, and his tie for 40th in the Travelers Championship last week was his first cut in six weeks. He is currently number 77 in the world.

“I’m disappointed that Wolff went that way,” 3M Open CEO Hollis Kavner said Monday. “He’s struggling, let’s face it, he just decided to take the easy money and go instead of fighting by not playing well and things are on that streak.

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“It’s money that’s going to change the lives of these guys; I look at the guys who took it, almost everyone…at the end of their careers or had no career at all, and I understand where they’re coming from but I hate it.”

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

At the other end of it all are events like the $7.5 million 3M Open, which sees its field roster get hurt by LIV players who no longer show up on a weekly basis.

“The Saudi Golf League is a pain,” Kavner said, also referring to it as “exhibition golf” and predicting its demise within two years. “We lost some guys to them but we will win the long battle. After 30 years of doing that, I have complete confidence in the PGA Tour and what we do and how we deal with it.”

A preliminary field update released by the 3M Open on Monday touting main winners Danny Willett, Jason Dufner and Lucas Glover as well as 32 players with winning streaks over the past two seasons such as Sungjae Im, Fargo’s Tom Hoge, Tony Finau and defending champion 3M Cameron.

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Brandon Matthews—known for his booming 350-yard engines on the Korn Ferry Tour—accepted the sponsor exemption along with former No. 1 amateur Cole Hammer (now a pro) and Edina’s Mardi Fish. Best known for his tennis prowess, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist plays to a handicap index of over 2.8.

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

Kavner hinted that some of the “Top 20 players” could still commit to the July 21-24 cycle, which takes place again the week immediately following the British Open. As in the past, Kavner chartered a transatlantic cruise for players and spent the past week in Connecticut swinging on the Travelers Championship driving range.

The difference this year is the number of players whose minds are built to surpass the 3M Open and all other PGA Tour events.

“Do I agree with their business decision and their life decision?” Kavner said, “But I wouldn’t treat them differently. I might make them buy dinner because they have all the money in the world, but I’d hate to see some of them go.”

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