Dustin Johnson to miss RBC Canadian Open to headline LIV Golf event

Johnson, who in February said he was “fully committed” to the PGA Tour, ultimately decided the opportunity was too good to pass up, his agent said.

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Royal Bank of Canada cut its business relationships with Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell on Wednesday, one day after the PGA Tour players were among the 42 players revealed to be competing in the first event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.

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“As a result of the decisions made by professional golfers Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell to play the LIV Golf Invitational Series opener, RBC is terminating its sponsorship agreement with both players,” the banking giant said in a statement to Sportico. “We wish them well in their future endeavours.”

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That statement was the RBC’s second in as many days in regard to the 37-year-old Johnson, who signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with the company in February 2018.

“RBC is a proud partner of the PGA Tour. Our partnership is anchored with two world-class golf tournaments — the RBC Heritage and the RBC Canadian Open,” RBC’s statement read on Tuesday. “The PGA Tour has been clear about its intentions in accordance with its tournament regulations should a golfer choose to play in a tournament outside the tour, including the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

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“We were recently made aware that Dustin Johnson made the decision to play the LIV Golf Invitational Series opener. DJ has been a valued RBC team member since 2018. While we are extremely disappointed in his decision, we wish him well.”

McDowell, 42, won the 2010 US Open. He has four victories on the PGA Tour.

Greg Norman celebrated the addition of Johnson to the new tour as the arrival of free agency in golf.

“This is an opportunity to start a movement that will change the course of history by bringing new and open competition to the sport we all love. The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier at the diversity of our field, featuring players from around the world including major champions and those making their debut with us competing in their first professional event.”

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Johnson was the biggest previously unreported name in the field for the tour-opening event, which does not include six-time major champion Phil Mickelson. The circuit, seen as a potential rival to the PGA Tour, became controversial for accepting financing from Saudi backers.

Other notable names in the field include Englishmen Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Richard Bland, Spaniard Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Talor Gooch, Germany’s Martin Kaymer and South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace.

The PGA Tour did not grant its members a release to play in the event, which will be contested June 9-11, opposite the Canadian Open. Johnson — who won the Canadian Open in 2018 — and other members could face punishment for choosing the LIV Golf event without the tour’s permission.

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Johnson, who has dropped from third to 13th in the Official World Golf Ranking this year, is the highest-ranked played listed in the field. The former world No. 1 previously said in a statement that he was “fully committed to the PGA Tour.”

The startup league became radioactive after Mickelson admitted to author Alan Shipnuck that the Saudis were “scary (expletives) to get involved with,” but that he planned to deal with them anyway as a leverage play to get more money out of the PGA Tour, including getting players their individual media rights.

Johnson and several other PGA Tour stars said in February that they were committed to the PGA Tour, and Mickelson issued a mea culpa for his actions and took a leave of absence from the game. He did not compete in the Masters or the PGA Championship, the first two majors of the season.

Mickelson’s representatives filed a request for him to play in the LIV event at the same time that he registered for the PGA Championship and US Open. After he withdrew from the PGA the Friday before it began, it’s unclear when he will make his return to the sport.

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