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Heading into Sentry, Canada’s Hughes speaks on state of men’s golf: ‘Bit of a circus’

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Mackenzie Hughes has never been one to shy away from giving his perspective on the news of the day – golf or otherwise. He’s made statements on gun control, racism, what’s happening in Ukraine, and more.

At the end of the day, however, he’s a professional golfer. And a pretty darn good one at that.

So, when he talks (and talks, and talks) about that, people listen.

Hughes, of Dundas, Ont., earned his way into The Sentry – the PGA Tour’s 2024 season opener which starts Thursday – only because Jon Rahm defected to LIV. Last year Hughes finished 51st in the FedExCup standings, a mere 28 points back of No. 50, which would have guaranteed him starts in each of the eight Signature Events for 2024, including The Sentry. Alas, with Rahm moving to LIV in a splashy announcement in December (“Letterman jacket, made a big show of it,” Hughes said with a laugh), that meant Hughes moved up one spot in the FedExCup. A nice Christmas gift from the Spaniard to the Canadian.

By his own admission, Hughes brought his season-ending status on himself. He didn’t play well through the summertime in 2023 and despite a victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship last year (the final year of the PGA Tour doing a wraparound schedule) he was left on the outside of the big-boy schedule until Rahm, who was ranked 18th in the FedExCup, was suspended by the PGA Tour for his move to the Saudi-backed circuit.

Hughes was originally supposed to have a big family vacation in the Dominican Republic (as in, his family of five, his mom, two sisters, husbands, other kids) through the New Year, but he pivoted everyone to Maui at the last minute.

“It was a little expensive,” Hughes admitted, “but I felt better about it now that I had all these starts lined up.”

Hughes is in the field this week at The Sentry alongside four other Canadians – the most ever to tee it up at the previously-named Tournament of Champions. This year the event expanded its criteria to not only include all the winners from last season, but also anyone who finished inside the top 50 of the FedExCup. The five are eager to build on Canada’s best-ever year on the PGA Tour as each of Adam Hadwin, Adam Svensson, Nick Taylor, Hughes, and top-ranked Corey Conners are hitting their primes together.

Canadians have plenty to compete for in 2024, with the Olympics on the horizon and an opportunity to play for Mike Weir, the captain of the International Presidents Cup team, at Royal Montreal later this fall.

The PGA Tour’s schedule for 2024 is set, with a lot of money on the line and continued opportunities to compete at some of the best courses in the world against, well, most, of the best players in the world. Hughes knows all of this. How to proceed going forward is a collection of questions with very little answers – even for Hughes, who is a member of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council (PAC).

“It’s been a very weird year to be on the PAC,” Hughes admitted. “I think there were a lot of times that we sat in those meetings thinking that we were having good, meaningful discussions, and then a month later something would happen, and you would be like, ‘wait, we didn’t even really decide on this yet,’ and the Tour is just going ahead […] even though we had no real unanimous sort of buy-in to an idea.

“I know I expressed my frustration at the time and talked to the Tour about that. I’m like, ‘well, why am I on the PAC if I’m not going to be a part of any of these decisions in the first place?’ Like, I’m not going to just spend two hours of my time […] in a meeting if it’s for nothing. If I’m not being heard, then […] I’m not going to speak.”

Hughes did have plenty to say Tuesday in Hawaii, however. It was measured and thoughtful. He posted on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, late last year a thread on men’s professional golf that went viral. He was hopeful, of course, and eager for the fans to be able to get to watch something they cared about again.

Hughes felt like 2019 was the “peak” of professional golf. He knows the Tour did well through the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and was one of the first professional sports to return to action. The economic model that year and into 2020 was sustainable. Then LIV came along and all of a sudden the Tour doubled its purses and sponsors were being asked to double their investments. There’s one problem, though.

“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,” Hughes said. “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. So, to me, that’s disappointing.

“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.”

Hughes has no line-of-sight on the ongoing negotiations between the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, and the other financial-bakers who have an interest in the new for-profit PGA Tour Enterprises. He’s also not sure what PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will do about the guys who took the money for LIV and who didn’t (“Guys who were offered major amounts of money and decided not to go and then the guys that left and they maybe played two years of LIV and then make their way back to the Tour and it’s like, all things are good again? I think those are the guys you have to worry about making the most upset”).

What he does know for sure, however, is that he’s over the distractions. Hughes is not going to any meetings any time soon. He’s going to trust the guys who are on the board to have the best interests of the PGA Tour at heart.

“Thinking about it day after day is just not going to help me or get me anywhere,” Hughes said. “It’s definitely been nicer the last few months to just get back into golf.”

The circus heads to Hawaii this week. Then to the biggest events and the majors and hopefully for Hughes, Paris and Montreal. Hughes had a few things to get off his chest. He did, and now it’s time to get back to work.

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