USGA could ban LIV golfers from future US Open


USGA could ban LIV golfers from future US Open

BROOKLINE, Mass. – Since last week, when several top golfers exposed a schism in the men’s professional game by spurning the established PGA Tour to join the burgeoning Saudi-backed LIV Golf Circuit, the sport has been waiting for its power brokers to weigh in.

The greatest prizes in golf, the events that shape legacy, generate top sponsorship money and feature on every player’s calendar, are the major championships: the Masters Tournament, the US Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. But none of these four events are governed by a professional tour, old or new. They are overseen by four separate entities, sometimes referred to as the four families of golf (insert an organized crime joke here).

These organizations are now the lynchpins in the fight for the future of men’s pro golf. When the PGA Tour retaliated last week by suspending 17 players who had joined LIV Golf, the question arose as to whether the major championship chiefs of the Augusta National Golf Club (Masters), the United States Golf Association (US Open ), the R&A (the British Open) and the PGA of America (the PGA Championship) would choose sides. Long allied with the recognized tours in the United States and Europe, would they snub the alternative LIV Golf Invitational series and ban their players from their events?

There was a partial response on Wednesday that failed to comfort renowned players like Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, who have insisted they can still play in the big tournaments while accepting the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been won LIV Golf, whose main shareholder is Private Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

While welcoming all LIV Golf-affiliated players who had already qualified for this week’s US Open at the country club outside of Boston, USGA executive chairman Mike Whan said Wednesday his organization would be exploring opportunities to more difficult for future LIV golfers to attend the event.

Whan was asked if he could see a situation where LIV Golf players would find it “increasingly difficult” to get into the US Open.

“Yes,” he replied.

When asked for more details, Whan said: “Could I see a day ahead? Yes, I could foresee a day.”

Whan warned that the USGA would not be hasty but would undoubtedly “re-evaluate” its qualifying criteria.

“The question was, can you imagine a day when it would be harder for some people doing other things to be in the US Open?” he said. “I could.”

There were other statements from Whan that didn’t sound like endorsements of the LIV Golf Invitational series, which held its inaugural tournament outside of London last weekend and still lacks the support of the majority of the PGA Tour’s top and grassroots players. But the Breakaway Circuit has surprisingly attracted some leading players, most of whom had pledged their allegiance to the United States-based PGA Tour just weeks or days before.

“I’m saddened by what’s happening in the professional game,” Whan said. He continued, “I’ve heard it’s good for the game. At least from my outside perspective right now it looks like it’s going to be good for a few people playing the game, but I’m struggling with how good that is for the game.”

Whan, who was the longtime commissioner of the LPGA until taking over the USGA last summer, also emphasized that it was important for all golf leaders to work together as one in evaluating the role that LIV Golf would play.

“We’ll have to see what comes of it — whether that’s an exhibition or a tour?” he said. “I’ve said that many times, I’ve seen a lot of things start in the game, maybe nothing with that amount of noise or that amount of funding behind it, but I also haven’t seen a lot of those things be with us a few years later .

“One event doesn’t change my opinion about the future of the sport.”

And, significantly, when Whan was asked if suspensions imposed by the PGA Tour would catch his eye if the USGA reassessed its criteria for future US Opens, Whan was quick to reply, “They already have. It got our attention for this championship.”

Whan’s comments come a month after PGA of America chairman Seth Waugh stood firmly behind the PGA Tour and called it part of what he called the golf ecosystem.

“Our bylaws state that in order to become a PGA member anywhere and be eligible to play, you must be a recognized member of a recognized tour,” Waugh said of the PGA championship.

Referring to the LIV Golf Tour, Waugh said, “I don’t know if it’s a league, it’s not a league at this point – but the league structure is a bit flawed.”

So where are the other two major championships and their likely reactions to the LIV Golf Tour, which is hosting five events across the United States this year, beginning June 30 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, just outside of Portland, Ore.

As with this week’s US Open, leaders at the British Open may find it difficult to rule out players who have already qualified for this year’s event, which begins on July 14 in St Andrews, Scotland and will include Mickelson and would belong to Johnson. That means the next, and possibly first, major championship forced to enter the PGA Tour-LIV Golf confrontation will be the Masters.

In April, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley was asked if players who are on a tour rivaling the PGA Tour would be invited to play at the Masters. Ridley said: “Our mission is to always act in the best interest of the game, in whatever form it takes. I think golf is in a good place right now.”

Over the years, Augusta National has deeply honored traditional values ​​and has been reluctant to change. And Ridley no doubt heard what Whan had to say on Wednesday if the two haven’t already discussed the matter over the phone.

Will Whan’s comments on the eve of the 122nd US Open slow the exodus of players from the PGA Tour, especially after the British Open is played?

It’s difficult to say. It will continue to be particularly attractive to the demographic most receptive to the monetary lure of LIV Golf: aging players past their prime.

But if there was one message in Whan’s answers to the 13 questions he faced Wednesday about introducing or penetrating LIV Golf into his sport, it’s that he doesn’t see it as business as usual. He could have been noncommittal about the new tour and bided his time. Importantly, he instead pointed out that it’s not good for golf.

That was an insightful observation from one of the most powerful bosses of golf’s great championship families.

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