Tuesday's golf: LIV faces hurdles in applying for world ranking points

By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Even as the second LIV Golf Invitational series embarks on the first of four consecutive events in the United States, an important part of its future takes place in Scotland in two weeks.

The Official World Golf Ranking governing board meets at St. Andrews during the British Open, followed by a meeting of the OWGR’s technical committee. The agenda is likely to include whether the Saudi-funded league of 48-man fields in 54-hole events should get ranking points.

That assumes LIV Golf’s application to be part of the OWGR system is received by then.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman plans to apply for Official World Golf Ranking points consideration.

Greg Norman, who runs LIV Golf, already has suggested that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan recuse himself from the decision. Monahan is part of the eight-member panel that includes executives from the European tour, PGA of America, USGA, R&A, Augusta National and the International Federation of PGA Tours. The board is chaired by former R&A chief Peter Dawson.

More: LIV Golf not diminishing quality of Rocket Mortgage Classic field

But there are a few potential bumps in the guidelines for prospective newcomers.

One is that every tournament be contested over at least 54 holes with a 36-hole cut or be in line with eligible formats. LIV Golf has no cut.

The OWGR guidelines indicate a standard format of 72 holes, with 54 holes acceptable “for those tournaments earnings fewer than 12 minimum first-place points.” In other words, a steady diet of 54-hole events is typically for developmental tours or offseason series, such as the Vodacom Origins of Golf in South Africa.

Guidelines also state that tournaments must average a 75-man field over the course of the season. This could be a problem for a circuit that promotes 48-man fields. LIV Golf has invested $300 million into the Asian Tour and has four “International Series” tournaments this year. It could claim those fields as part of its league and reach the minimum.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle is a requirement that a new tour comply with the guidelines for at least one year before it gets admitted. LIV Golf has altered or delayed plans for a full schedule and set teams, and providing stability could be key in gaining approval.

Of course, the OWGR handbook also says the board can admit or reject any new tour regardless of compliance and change criteria at its discretion. That’s a lot of gray.

And then if LIV Golf does get accepted, still looming is a change to the OWGR ranking formula that starts in August, before LIV’s fourth event.

The new system will determine the strength of field using a calculation based on a statistical evaluation of every player in the field, not just those among the current 200 in the world. Gone will be the minimum points awarded to various tours.

The Portland field has 13 players outside the top 200.

Meanwhile, Ian Poulter comes into the Portland event at No. 96 and risks falling out of the top 100 for the first time in five years. Lee Westwood is at No. 87. Both are in the British Open. Without ranking points, they won’t be eligible for majors going forward without open qualifying.

Koepka cites injuries, family for joining Saudi-backed tour

North Plains, Ore. — Four months after suggesting those who defected to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series were sellouts, Brooks Koepka explained Tuesday that he simply changed his mind.

Koepka signed with LIV Golf last week for its first event on American soil, which starts Thursday at Pumpkin Ridge west of Portland.

It was a stunning reversal for the four-time major champion, who was once an outspoken critic of the fledgling series that seeks to challenge the PGA Tour.

“Opinions change. I feel very comfortable with the decision I made. I’m happy, and did what’s best for me,” Koepka said.

Brooks Koepka hits on the 13th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament at The Country Club, Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Brookline, Mass.

In February, Koepka said of LIV Golf: “They’ll get their guys. Somebody will sell out and go to it.”

Former world No. 1 and fellow four-time major winner Rory McIlroy suggested last week that Koepka and others were duplicitous "to say one thing and then do another thing.”

“Look, he’s entitled to his opinion. He can think whatever he wants," Koepka responded. "He’s going to do what’s best for him and his family, I’m going to do what’s best for me and my family. Can’t hate on anybody for that, and like I said, opinions change, man.”

Koepka cited a knee injury that has taken a toll on his body and the desire to spend more time with his family as factors in his decision. He did not mention the multimillion-dollar signing bonuses LIV Golf — which is backed by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund — has handed to players. Koepka is one of the biggest names, along with Dustin Johnson and six-time major champion Phil Mickelson.

And there's more money to be made: The 48-man field will compete for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition. Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural event outside London and took home $4.75 million. LIV tournaments are played over 54 holes with no cut, and even the last-place finisher gets paid.

Players who spoke to reporters on Tuesday skirted questions about Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

“I understand the topics you’re trying to bring up, and they’re horrible events, but I’m here to play golf. That’s my deal,” said Pat Perez, a three-time PGA Tour winner who also spoke against LIV Golf before changing his mind. “I’ve got an opportunity to play golf, and that’s it.”

Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion, pointed to the good he plans to do in his community with the money he's making from LIV Golf.

“I think as time goes on, hopefully people will see the good that they are doing and what they are trying to accomplish rather than looking at the bad that’s happened before,” DeChambeau said. “I think moving on from that is important, and going and continuing to move forward in a positive light is something that could be a force for good for the future of the game.”

The mayor of North Plains, as well as 10 other local mayors, wrote a letter to the Texas-based owners of Pumpkin Ridge, saying the upstart league does not align with their values because of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses, including the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said the tour is an example of sportswashing, in which countries use sporting events as a way to distract or minimize human rights abuses. He has pointed to the hit-and-run death of an Oregon teenager: The Saudi national accused in the case fled before trial.

The PGA Tour has sought fight off the threat posed by LIV Golf by disciplining players. The tour suspended every active member who competed in the first LIV event. Those who play in Oregon will also be suspended unless they resign their tour memberships.

Perez said the PGA Tour's tactics have backfired.

“You want to be able to play anywhere you want. And you should be able to play wherever you want. We should be able to do whatever we want. We are independent contractors,” Perez said. “The (PGA) Tour has tried to strong-arm us all year and come with bans and suspensions and all that, and how’d that work? Look how many guys are here. That didn’t work at all.”

New alliance

The PGA Tour is awarding 10 cards to European tour players and bringing back a direct path to the big leagues from Q-school as part of an expanded partnership with Europe that aims to strengthen themselves against the Saudi-funded LIV Golf.

The joint venture with Europe is a 13-year deal that goes through 2035, and the PGA Tour increases its stake in European Tour Productions, the tour’s media and commercial branch, from 15% to 40%.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan last week outlined significant changes to the schedule that will feature a January-to-August season starting in 2024 and create purses of $20 million on average for eight elite events.

The changes outlined in a conference call give European tour players immediate access to the PGA Tour. The leading 10 players — excluding those already on the PGA Tour, such as Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm — will have full cards for the following year.

The partnership is likely to create better coordination of a global schedule for both tours. The Scottish Open next week is the first tournament co-sanctioned by both, and the field is the strongest in tournament history