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TORONTO — Dustin Johnson was once the face of the RBC Canadian Open but years after he won the men's national golf championship his sudden withdrawal from the PGA Tour event isn't having a significant impact on the tournament's ticket sales.
Johnson, who won the Canadian Open in 2018, announced on Tuesday that he would not be playing next week at St. George's Golf and Country Club in Toronto. Instead, Johnson entered the 48-man field for the first Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational, a new rival men's golf circuit hoping to compete with the PGA Tour.
"No, I've seen nothing that would suggest that it was impactful," said Dan Pino, senior director of communications for Golf Canada, about Johnson's departure. "From a ticket sales perspective we continue to trend positively.
"I don't know that decision carried any weight with ticket behaviour. We're tracking just fine."
Johnson had been the focus of promotional materials for the Canadian Open leading up to and following his victory in 2018 at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont. He was a natural fit for the headlining role as one of the best golfers in the world, a member of Team RBC, and the husband of Paulina Gretzky, daughter of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, who grew up in nearby Brantford, Ont.
However, Johnson lost his RBC sponsorship within a day of withdrawing from the Canadian Open in favour of the LIV Golf event at Centurion Golf Club outside London, England. Further, the PGA Tour has threatened Johnson, Graeme McDowell, and other players who jump to the LIV Golf with disciplinary action.
"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," said a statement from RBC on Wednesday. "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."
Although Johnson is ranked 13th in the world and 96th in the PGA Tour's FedExCup standings, this year's edition of the Canadian Open still boasts a strong field. World No. 9 Sam Burns was added to the lineup on Thursday morning, joining world No. 5 Justin Thomas who committed to the event on May 25 after winning the PGA Championship.
The field was further bolstered Thursday with the additions of three players from England — Justin Rose, winner of the 2013 U.S. Open, world No. 15 Matt Fitzpatrick and world No. 23 Tyrrell Hatton — as well as 2019 British Open champion Shane Lowry of Ireland.
Reigning Canadian Open champion and world No. 7 Rory McIlroy, world No. 1 and reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, and world No. 3 Cameron Smith had previously agreed to play in the national championship.
Pino said organizers were not particularly concerned about further defections to the LIV Golf event before the Canadian Open's field is finalized on Friday.
"Withdrawals happen. We see it any year, whether it's travel changes, whether somebody wins the week before that was scheduled to be in our tournament, we've had that in the past," said Pino. "We're tracking well in terms of the general strength of our field."
McIlroy, who won in 2019 at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, said in a video posted by the Canadian Open that he is excited to defend his title after the tournament was suspended for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm just looking forward to getting back up there, playing in front of the fans again, recreating an atmosphere like we did that Sunday," said McIlroy.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2022.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press