Guaranteed money, they said…no pressure, they said… an exhibition with nothing riding on it, they said.
LIV Golf has been charged with all those competitive crimes in its frantic first year of existence, but to those without “superstar” status — such as Laurie Canter — those accusations must seem ridiculous.
Canter is precariously positioned in the Saudi-funded circuit battling for his career. Granted, the 33-year-old from Bath chose to play on LIV and did so without an upfront fee or any copper-bottomed assurances of where the controversial decision could lead. Yet, at the very least, his example should serve as a caveat to the narrative that the rebels had nothing to lose.
Canter, a former tennis protege who in a parallel world might have been playing in Wimbledon this week, is in 41st position in the standings acutely aware that anyone outside the top 24 will not have the security of a place on the 2024 roster and that any player from 45th and down will be relegated.
LIV’s rules are clear, even if nothing else is in this mess of a sporting landscape. Any player in the top 24 on its season-long points list and the 14 team captains will be safe for the third LIV season.
The players finishing from 25th to 44th on the points list will be in what LIV calls an “open zone,” effectively becoming free agents, where they can either move between teams or leave LIV Golf if not contracted to a team.
Players outside the top 44 on the points list will be relegated and will have to earn their way back on to the LIV through a 72-hole stroke play relegation tournament to be held in late November after the final £20 million event in Jeddah.
Jeopardy is thus all around Canter and the employment peril is intensified by the fact that he is only competing at the moment because of the injury to countryman Sam Horsfield. However, Horsfield confirmed on Wednesday that he will return from injury for the last three events of the year, meaning that unless another spot on a team other than the Majesticks — run by Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson — opens up then Canter is running out of time.
“It makes me laugh when people say there is nothing on these events,” Canter said. “Of course, there is, because you can see everyone grinding just like they always did. And there is plenty for me to play for. It’s everything to get in that top 24 and that is in the forefront of my mind. That’s my challenge. What I’m working towards.”
Canter uttered these words on Wednesday and by close of play on Saturday night he had elevated his hopes by shooting a 67-69 at the Centurion Club in St Albans to reach seven-under and stand in seventh place, six behind Cam Smith, the pacesetter going into the final round, but only three behind Thomas Pieters, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman sharing second.
Having come through Open qualifying in sensational style on Tuesday, Sunday could complete a significant week for Canter. A spot at Hoylake, a berth on LIV.
If only it were that simple. The shock “framework agreement” between the Saudi sovereign wealth fund and the PGA and DP World Tours last month has thrown everything, including the balls, up into the air. Despite Yasir Al-Rumayya — the governor of the Public Investment Fund bankrolling LIV — providing assurances to the players that LIV will continue, the wording of the skeleton deal reveals that Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, will have the right to cancel the breakaway league — if a deal is finalised.
So deep down Canter and the rest who are scrapping for their LIV status do so fearing that their exertions could be futile regardless. Admittedly, Canter has earned a small fortune for his troubles — more than £3 million — and he and his young family have quite enough to live on. Certainly, he is not expecting any sympathy. But as a sports professional he could be left with nowhere to play next year, bar the Asian Tour. He has lost his DP World Tour card and even if he were to win it back at qualifying school, would have to fulfill a ban of at least three months.
In the meantime the fines till rack up — Horsfield revealed that he was hit with the latest economic sanction of £150,000 a day after the merger was announced — and even with LIV’s support this is becoming expensive. “People asked me after the merger about what it means for me,” Canter said. “I honestly don’t know. I’m just trying to play well enough to get a fixed spot on LIV in 2024. In my case, nothing whatsoever is definite.”