Saturday September 30, 2023

Eligibility For Golf’s Majors Could Control LIV Golf’s Destiny

  • Tiger Woods warns LIV players may never get a chance to play majors.
  • But barring LIVers could “diminish” the appeal of majors, warns Peter Kostis
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
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The brash upstarts of LIV Golf are being treated like party-crashers at the historic 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews.

Despite winning two Opens, LIV CEO Greg Norman was disinvited from the R&A’s Champions Dinner, in a move Norman called “petty.”

Some spectators even booed LIV defector Ian Poulter on the first tee — leading the British golfer to nearly hook his tee shot out of bounds.

Before the action got underway for Thursday’s first round, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers criticized the circus-like F1 atmosphere around LIV’s first two events, which included sky-divers, jugglers and “apres-golf” concerts. 

The Open may make it harder for LIV golfers to qualify in the future, he warned. 

“I believe the model we’ve seen at (LIV London) and (LIV Portland) is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money,” said Slumbers. “We believe it undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special.”

Yes, LIV stars like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Bryon DeChambeau have their nine-figure contracts, all-expenses paid accommodations, and opulent party jets.  

But the organizers of golf’s four major tournaments — the Open Championship, U.S. Open, Masters Tournament, and PGA Championship — still hold the cards.

They can ban LIV players from competing in their tournaments or change their qualifying rules, with no exemptions for past victories or performance.

The question of whether LIV golfers will be able to tee it up in golf’s four biggest tournaments could determine whether LIV succeeds — or becomes another failed pro league like the XFL, USFL, and Alliance of American Football.

The sport’s four majors are to pro golfers what the Super Bowl is to NFL players. From childhood on, they dream of hoisting the Claret Jug at The Open or donning the Green Jacket at Augusta National.

It’s one thing for the 52-year-old Mickelson, with six major titles to his name, to collect his $200 million from the Saudis — but someone like the 38-year old Johnson, who’s still at the top of his game, the decision to forgo a chance at a third major is a tough one.

Winning majors leads to lucrative equipment and sponsorship deals. Winning the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah in Saudi Arabia this fall won’t bring nearly the same cache.

The civil war dividing the normally genteel golf industry is hardening attitudes across the board. 

Furious at LIV, the established PGA and DP World Tours would dearly love for golf’s organizing bodies to take their side and make things tough for LIV golfers. They’re making progress.

  • USGA CEO Mike Whan warned last month his organization might scrutinize qualifying criteria for LIV golfers. 
  • At St. Andrews, Tiger Woods ripped LIV mutineers for turning their back on the tours that built their careers. Woods also dangled the possibility of LIV defectors being banned from majors — forever.

From a strategic standpoint, majors could become a rare venue where fans can watch PGA Tour stars like Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth go head-to-head with their LIV rivals. 

But the organizing bodies have to be careful, warned Peter Kostis, the former CBS Sports golf analyst. If the majors ban some of the world’s best golfers from competing, they “diminish” their own value — and invite possible legal action. 

“It works both ways. If all of the majors were to get together and unilaterally decide some course of action regarding players who have signed up for LIV, I would think they’re opening themselves up for a lawsuit for some sort of collusion.”

The good news? Kostis’ sources in St. Andrews report peace talks may be breaking out between the battling tours. To him, there’s plenty of golf and money to go around. The best solution is for the PGA, DP, and LIV tours to establish some sort of modus vivendi that allows them to work together.

“Hopefully, they will be able to talk things through — and make things right,” said Kostis. “If the majors don’t allow the LIV players to play, then I think the majors will be diminished. And I think the whole golf world will be diminished.”

During Friday’s second round, Johnson was only two shots off the lead. As a hated disruptor, the best-case scenario for LIV is for one of its 23 players in the field to capture The Open this weekend. That would illustrate a rough equality between the ropes and go a long way toward solving LIV’s major problem.

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