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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Why British Open’s LIV Decision Spells Bad News For PGA Tour

  • R&A won’t ban LIV golfers like Brooks Koepka from teeing it up at St. Andrews.
  • Could Masters hold the keys to golf’s uncertain future?
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The PGA Tour won the battle at the U.S. Open this past weekend — but rebel LIV Golf may slowly be winning the war.

The embattled PGA Tour got some good news at the U.S. Open, where mutinous LIV golfers were dominated by young Tour stars like Scottie Scheffler, Will Zalatoris, and eventual winner Matt Fitzpatrick.  

Some of the biggest names to defect to LIV including Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia missed the cut. Other expensive LIV acquisitions like Dustin Johnson (T24), Patrick Reed (T49), and Bryson DeChambeau (T56) were non-factors on Sunday.

But money talks. And no sports organization seems to have more money to throw around than Greg Norman’s breakaway golf circuit, which is financed by Saudi Arabia’s seemingly bottomless Public Investment Fund.

Within days, momentum swung in LIV’s favor.

First, the R&A announced it would allow LIV golfers to compete at the British Open from July 14-17 in St. Andrews. 

The Tour had been hoping the organizing bodies in charge of the four major tournaments — the U.S. Open, British Open, Masters Tournament, and PGA Championship — would follow its lead and ban LIV golfers. Now they will get a second crack at a major title in the very home of golf.

The organizing bodies could still ban players next year. But it might be smarter financially for the United States Golf Association (USGA), R&A, Augusta National Golf Club, and PGA of America to stay neutral, then market their major tournaments as the only events where you can see PGA vs. LIV stars going head-to-head. 

“The Open is golf’s original championship and since it was first played in 1860, openness has been fundamental to its ethos and unique appeal,” R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said in a statement released on Wednesday.

Then Brooks Koepka delivered another body blow by accepting an estimated $150 million offer to join his brother Chase on the breakaway circuit.  

The four-time major winner joins DeChambeau and Reed as LIV stars in the prime of their careers. The rivalry between Koepka and DeChambeau has intrigued even non-golf fans.

On Wednesday, the dueling golf leagues continued to play tit for tat.

Norman waited until PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan’s press conference at the Travelers Championship before formally announcing that Koepka was joining in time for its second tournament in Portland on June 30. DeChambeau and Reed will also make their LIV debuts at the event.

“There’s no understating the impact that Brooks Koepka has had on the game of golf in the last five years. He carries a championship pedigree and record of success as one of the most elite players in the world,” said Norman in a statement. “The addition of Brooks is yet another example of the incredible fields LIV Golf is assembling as we build momentum in our first season and look towards the future.”

During his press conference, an irked Monahan lashed out at LIV as an “irrational threat” to the game of golf. But the commissioner admitted his U.S.-based Tour can’t win an “arms race” where the weapons are dollar bills.

“The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf,” Monahan said. “We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”

Tellingly, Monahan laid out “significant” changes to counter LIV, including eight tournaments with greatly enhanced purses and three no-cut international events with limited fields.

In other words, the PGA Tour will start to look like the LIV Tour as the battle for golf’s future continues.

In the end, it may come down to Augusta National: the prickly, fiercely independent home of the Masters. 

Nobody tells Augusta’s secretive membership what to do, including the PGA Tour. The private country club opted to go commercial-free for a while after National Council of Women’s Organizations pressured sponsors Coca-Cola, IBM, and Citigroup to make Augusta add its first women members.

Will the Masters side with the Tour and ban LIV golfers from the 2023 tournament?

Will it continue to allow previous green jacket winners like Mickelson, Johnson, Garcia, and Reed to compete in 2023 and beyond? Or will the Masters, as usual, make up it own rules?

Giving up a PGA Tour card is one thing for Koepka, who piled up $38 million in career earnings before grabbing the big payday from LIV.  Or DeChambeau, who earned $26.2 million on the Tour.

But being banned from the Masters is another thing entirely. 

If Koepka and DeChambeau can’t compete for the green jacket they covet, then they will become true sports mercenaries, cut off from golf’s most prestigious event.

As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports wrote, the Masters may hold the “keys” to golf’s future: “Missing out on the PGA Championship is one thing. The Masters is another.”

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