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LIV bid for OWGR points denied over closed shop

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LIV bid for OWGR points denied over closed shop

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LIV Golf is playing only for cash, not world ranking points, after the Official World Golf Ranking board determined it could not fairly measure the 48-man league with the other 24 tours around the world.

The OWGR rejected the application from Saudi-backed LIV Golf, first submitted in July 2022 after the league already had played two of its 54-hole, no-cut events.

“We are not at war with them,” Peter Dawson, chairman of the OWGR board, said when contacted by The Associated Press. “This decision not to make them eligible is not political. It is entirely technical. LIV players are self-evidently good enough to be ranked. They’re just not playing in a format where they can be ranked equitably with the other 24 tours and thousands of players trying to compete on them.”

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, European tour CEO Keith Pelley and Keith Waters of the International Federation of PGA Tours previously recused themselves from the LIV Golf decision to avoid any conflict of interest.

The committee that rejected LIV’s application comprised leaders from Augusta National, the PGA of America, the U.S. Golf Association and The R&A, which run the four majors. The majors use the OWGR as part of their qualifying criteria.

In a statement, LIV Golf said it believes the decision leaves golf “without a true or global scoring and ranking system.”

“Players have historically remained subject to a single world ranking to qualify for Major Championships, the biggest events, and for corporate sponsor contract value,” it said. “A ranking which fails to fairly represent all participants, irrespective of where in the world they play golf, robs fans, players and all of golf’s stakeholders of the objective basis underpinning any accurate recognition of the world’s best player performances. It also robs some traditional tournaments of the best fields possible.”

LIV Golf, which has two events left in its second season, has 48 players competing over 54 holes with no cut and a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million awarded in a simultaneous team competition.

Dawson, a nonvoting member of the committee, said the OWGR could work around some of the requirements, such as a 36-hole cut and having an average field size of 75 players over the course of a season.

But the committee could not get past what amounts to a closed shop.

LIV Golf League has the same 48 players for the entire season (with alternates in case of injury) and not enough turnover. Although the top 24 players are assured a spot the next season, LIV Golf signed several players to lucrative contracts that assure them a spot on the roster regardless of their performance.

Among those currently outside the top 24 are Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter.

Three players are to be added for the 2024 season through a promotions tournament, with a fourth player — Andy Ogletree — advancing through the International Series on the Asian Tour. LIV Golf can choose to add others by recruiting, such as signing up Mito Pereira and Thomas Pieters ahead of the 2023 season.

Most tours around the world typically have a turnover rate of 20% to 25%.

LIV Golf made its debut in June 2022, and the lack of world ranking points has taken an enormous toll. Players who joined the rival league were suspended by the PGA Tour and European tour, and their only access to points was the majors.

When LIV Golf completed its inaugural season, it had 12 players from the top 50 in the world (led by Cameron Smith) and 24 of the top 100. In this week’s ranking, Smith (No. 15) and Brooks Koepka (No. 18) are the only players from the top 50, and LIV has only six players among the top 100.

Among those no longer in the top 100 are Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Talor Gooch, who has three LIV Golf victories this year. LIV players have mocked the OWGR for not being credible without offering them ranking points.

“Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, of course they should be in the ranking,” Dawson said. “We need to find a way to get that done. I hope that LIV can find a solution — not so much their format; that can be dealt with through a mathematical formula — but the qualification and relegation.”

The OWGR committee also raised concerns over the team aspect of LIV, particularly a moment involving Sebastián Muñoz at a LIV Golf event in Florida a week before the Masters.

Koepka had a 1-shot lead on the final hole, with he and Muñoz both about 40 feet away for birdie. Koepka went first and left the putt just over 4 feet away. Muñoz needed to make birdie to force a playoff. However, his Torque team had a 1-shot lead. Muñoz lagged his putt to just inside 4 feet and made par.

“I knew we were 1 stroke ahead on the team, so I couldn’t go extra. I knew I couldn’t be too aggressive,” Muñoz said when it was over.

LIV Golf can reapply to be part of the OWGR system, although the board made it clear that turnover, objective access to LIV Golf and relegating players who don’t perform remain key points in getting ranking points.

There’s also the matter of the PGA Tour, European tour and Saudi backers of LIV Golf (Public Investment Fund) working out a commercial partnership announced in June. One of the provisions is evaluating the future of team golf.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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