There are 28 pros in this weekend’s tournament outside of Chicago who also played in the LIV’s first London event in June. All but four of those, but four, have fallen steadily in the world rankings – Phil Mickelson slipped 48 places to No. 120, for example, while Sergio Garcia slipped 20 places to No. 77.
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“To have 48 of the best players around the world playing without getting the world ranking points, I think maybe it’s a bit unfair,” Australian golfer Cameron Smith, ranked third in the world, said recently.
LIV Golf submitted its application in July for recognition from OWGR, which acts as a keeper for the sport, and plays a key role in deciding to enter golf’s biggest tournaments. Atul Khosla, LIV’s president and chief operating officer, said this week that the group had not received any comments or updates. On the surface, LIV officials remain optimistic, but they also feel the group is stacked against them and fear that they will not get fair consideration as they continue to heart the sport with huge financial deals and drastic rule changes.
“I hope eventually the coolest heads will prevail because it makes sense for fans who just want to see the best players compete,” Khosla said.
Usually the top 50 or 60 players in the ranking are eligible to compete in the majors. But if LIV players can’t accumulate points, they will continue to drop in the rankings, putting them at risk of losing major tournaments and Olympics.
There are 23 rounds of golf currently recognized by OWGR, and the points available to players who cut and complete an event depend on the strength of the championship field. The formula includes two years’ worth of results, with the latter finishes carrying more weight.
Recognition from OWGR is vital for players who dream of winning the majors, but equally important for LIV Golf, which wants its players and brand to emerge on the sport’s biggest stages, and is a sign of legitimacy for a startup that has already faced so much turmoil.
LIV Golf submitted its application, consisting of about 20 pages, knowing that its unique format and structure would not fully meet many recognition criteria. Among the issues:
- Recognized events must be 72 holes; LIV’s is 54. (Exceptions have been granted for developmental rounds, and LIV officials believe the OWGR language does not make this mandatory.)
- Golfers must average 75 golfers over the course of a season; The LIV field is set to 48.
- Tournaments must include 36-hole cuts; LIV events have no cutoff.
- Tours must host an open qualifying school before each season; LIV has selected its roster of golfers, although the circuit has plans for a promotional series, which will allow up to 12 players to go to LIV Golf events.
- Tours are supposed to occupy places for local and regional players. For example, the PGA Tour typically organizes an 18-hole competition on the Monday before the tournament, with four contestants advancing to the actual tournament. LIV has not announced any such show, although officials say all but one of their events have included places for golfers from other rounds.
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OWGR officials – who come from other golf rounds – have occasionally made exceptions, but a person familiar with the process said no round has been taken seriously with such a problematic application. LIV officials refer to the language in the application guidelines that characterize the criteria as discretionary, and they argue that they fully meet most applications listed.
The review process usually takes one to one and a half years, and the rounds must be in the works for a full year before OWGR recognizes them. Even if a LIV is eventually accepted, golfers can go all next season without accruing points from LIV events, creating a very steep path to eligibility in upcoming majors.
Khosla said that LIV officials “really feel good about the standards we’ve applied against, and there are enough examples where exceptions have been made to those standards.” He said his concerns are related to the operation.
The LIV application must first be reviewed by the OWGR Technical Committee, which is made up of 10 members: representatives of the system’s six founding members — Augusta National Golf Club, PGA of America, PGA Tour, R&A, USGA, and DP World Tour — as well as To the Japanese Golf Tour, the PGA Tour of Australia, the Asian Tour and the Sunshine Tour. This group reviews applications, often working with the applicant to address deficiencies, before passing a recommendation to the Board of Directors, which includes the founding members and is chaired by Peter Dawson, former president of R&A, one of golf’s international governing bodies. The 23 recognized rounds include the sport’s dominant stakeholders, along with lesser-known development and fashion rounds, such as the Northern Golf League and the First Thailand Tour.
While OWGR has not made any public comments on LIV’s implementation and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment this week, several of its members have spoken out against LIV Golf or expressed concerns about the havoc it has created in the sport. LIV Golf is part of a federal antitrust lawsuit accusing the PGA Tour and DP World Tour of orchestrating a “mass boycott” and saying the tours were based on major sports leagues to “maximize threats and damages.” But LIV officials maintain that OWGR’s mission is to rank the best golfers in the world and that a system that excludes major winners on the basis of their affiliation is silly on its face.
In an interview, Khosla said OWGR board members were “conflicted” and could not fairly judge LIV’s application.
“For an independent board of directors, that sounds a bit silly,” he said. “It’s as if the FDA only has five drug companies. So if a sixth goes into the market and has a product, the five will say what? We don’t like it. It’s not approved.”
The golfers met with LIV officials ahead of this weekend’s tournament and discussed the ratings predicament. As American Bryson DeChambeau said: “We do anything and everything to meet OWGR standards.”
“There will be adjustments. There will be adjustments on both ends. There will be adjustments on both ends,” said Deschamps, who has slipped from 28th in the world to 43rd since jumping to Lev. This ecosystem.”
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It’s not clear how much LIV Golf would be willing to change its operations to please OWGR officials. It has announced plans for the full 2023 season that will include 48 players competing in 14 events. While the press release made no mention of the 54-hole format or cut-out lines, it did promise “paths for amateurs and the next generation of leading players” and “broad exemption categories so that a wide range of players can try to earn their way into the league.”
Many LIV golfers will still be able to compete in the majors thanks to the exemptions they received from previous offerings. Smith, for example, won this year’s British Open, so he can play in all majors until 2027 and has a spot in future British Championships until 2053, when he turns 60. And although Mickelson has struggled his year, he has exemptions For life in the Masters and PGA Championships, he can continue to play in the British Open until he turns 60 in 2030.
But many other golfers rely largely on world rankings. They can still get into the majors in other ways – such as the US Open and British Open, for example – or pressure the majors to adjust their qualifications and create dedicated places for LIV golfers. Otherwise, accumulating points is the surest path.
The PGA Tour banned LIV golfers from its events. The DP World Tour attempted to do the same, but a judge paused those efforts, pending a hearing in February.
LIV golfers can also earn points on the Asian Tour, but the OWGR formula doesn’t reward those tournaments as nicely as the PGA Tour events do. LIV Golf, sinking $300 million into the Asian Tour, will host 11 of its 2023 events, branded LIV’s International Series, with larger fields, a 72-hole format and at least a handful of LIV golfers. (The series is separate from LIV Golf, but LIV officials argue that their full-field international series and Asian Championships should serve as qualifying events in their OWGR app.)
“We’re all going to be thinking about where to play,” Bubba Watson, one of the LIV captains, said recently. “Because if you play in Asia you get world ranking points, which is sad – you have to go and do other things to get ranked so you can get majors. Sad thing.”
This weekend’s LIV Course features dozens of players who have won major championships, and officials have been adamant about the competitive strength of their fields – and about the credibility they have struck they say OWGR faces if it ignores many of the world’s best golfers.
“You can’t tell me that just because Cam plays here today, he’s not the second best golfer,” Khosla said. “Does not make sense.”