GOLF

Will LIV golfers have a path to future majors?

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When Dustin Johnson hit a par-18 putt at St. Andrews to close his round at the 2022 Open Championship, it marked a small but significant moment in golf history. Johnson would be the last LIV Golf player to compete in one of golf’s majors under current rules.

(Or maybe Johnson wasn’t the very last. More on that later.)

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LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed breakaway tour that has attracted Johnson, Phil Mickelson and other top players, has turned the golfing world upside down in recent months. Offering huge signing bonuses and guaranteed paydays for uncut 54-hole tournaments, LIV is a lucrative new option for players and an existential threat to the viability of the PGA Tour and similar tours around the world.

However, most professional golfers, even those who have moved on to LIV, place great importance on the majors. They agree to be banned from playing in a random invite sponsored by a Midwestern insurance company, but the threat of never playing in the Masters, US Open, PGA Championship or Open Championship again …it has weight.

“Some of these players (LIV) may never get a chance to play in major leagues,” Tiger Woods said on Tuesday. “It’s a possibility. We don’t know for sure yet. It’s up to all the major league bodies to make that decision. But it’s a possibility, which some players will never, ever have the chance to play in a major championship, never get the chance to experience that here, hit the fairways at Augusta National.”

Martin Slumbers, chairman of the R&A, which manages golf worldwide outside of North America, went further, criticizing the “free lunch” LIV players were trying to get. “We have been asked quite frequently to ban players. Let me be very clear. It is not on our agenda. But what is on our agenda is that we will review our exemption and qualification criteria for the Open,” Slumbers said. “And while we do this every year, we absolutely reserve the right to make changes if our Open Championships Committee deems it appropriate. Players have to earn their place in the Open, and that’s fundamental to its philosophy. and its unique global appeal.”

How do players enter the majors?

Majors fill their fields in different ways, but for players who have never won the tournament before, the easiest and most sustainable way to gain automatic entry is to play well enough to rank among the best in the tournament. world – top 50 for the Masters and Open Championship, top 60 for the US Open, top 100 for the PGA Championship.

This ranking is determined by the Official World Golf Rankings, an organization overseen by members of the majors and major professional tours – and an organization LIV uses for accreditation. The Asian Tour, which received significant funding from LIV Golf, sponsored LIV’s bid for the OWGR.

Last Tuesday, OWGR President Peter Dawson confirmed that LIV had applied, saying in a statement: “On July 6, 2022, the Official World Golf Rankings received an application from LIV Golf to include him. in its filing system. The review of the application will now begin.

Ranking points are crucial to the continued operations of LIV; with OWGR points, LIV becomes all the more attractive to potential new players.

“The OWGR points should be awarded, and if we get the OWGR points, then everything else takes care of itself,” Norman said in a recent TV interview.

An interesting new twist in LIV/OWGR history came on Sunday afternoon. Paul Casey, who recently announced his move to LIV, said that several LIV players had considered participating in certain Asian Tour events to help bolster their own rankings.

“I think the discussion was that if guys showed up in droves, it would increase the world ranking points,” Casey said. “So if they’re going to play an Asian tour [event], they all go together. The OWGR awards points based in part on the strength of the field; the higher the players are ranked in an event, the more points are awarded to participants in the event.

Such a move would seem to undermine players’ desire to play less while getting paid more, but it would also, in effect, be a run-down around the current hurdles to key LIV player qualifications. The OWGR operates on a two-year sliding scale; the more points LIV players can rack up this year, the further into the future they push the point where playing in LIV tournaments hurts their rankings.

LIV has several factors that go against its OWGR certification that have nothing to do with the source of its funding. The non-cut format rewards every player on the field, and the invitational framework limits the number of players who can realistically play in LIV events. Additionally, many reviewers don’t consider the 54-hole structure a “true” test of golf. While none of these are individually a deal breaker, combined they are a significant challenge for LIV to overcome.

Will other players switch to LIV?

Still, it’s entirely possible that LIV will meet the challenge of the OWGR the way it recruits new members: with overwhelming, irresistible force. With the Open Championship in the rearview mirror and no majors until the Masters in April 2023, the question now becomes, who will join the LIV Tour?

At The Open, Henrik Stenson – the captain of the European Ryder Cup 2023 team – announced that his next schedule was “undecided”, and the media suggested on Sunday evening that he was ready to move to LIV and relinquish the Ryder Cup captaincy. Other rumors circulating around St. Andrews had notable Ryder Cup players and recent great champions preparing to make the jump in the coming weeks.

Most important of all, however, was the fact that current Golf Champion of the Year Cam Smith didn’t exactly deny he was going to LIV. When asked if there was any truth to the rumors that he would sign with LIV, Smith replied: “I just won the British Open, and you ask about it. I think it’s not very good.

When pressed, Smith added: “My team around me is worried about all of this. I’m here to win golf tournaments. Monday morning, he had issued neither denial nor clarification. Claiming a reigning major champion – especially a British Open champion, who snubbed Norman earlier this week – would be a substantial blow for LIV.

The LIV Golf Tour is set to take place at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey next week in what will be its highest-profile event yet. There is no timeline yet for the OWGR to make a decision on whether to award points or if the majors will change their qualifying criteria. For now, LIV will have to wait… but surely won’t stand still while doing so.

Dustin Johnson and other LIV players competed at St. Andrews, but for how much longer? (Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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