USGA Will Not Keep LIV Golfers From US Open; It Might Not Matter

USGA Will Not Keep LIV Golfers From US Open; After 2022, It Might Not Matter

In a carefully worded statement, the USGA announced Tuesday that LIV golfers are not excluded from next week’s US Open.

We pride ourselves in being the most open championship in the world and the players who have earned the right to compete in this year’s championship, both via exemption and qualifying, will have the opportunity to do so. Our field criteria were set prior to entries opening earlier this year and it’s not appropriate, nor fair to competitors, to change criteria once established.

Regarding players who may choose to play in London this week, we simply asked ourselves this question—should a player who had earned his way into the 2022 U.S. Open, via our published field criteria, be pulled out of the field as a result of his decision to play in another event? And we ultimately decided that they should not.

Our decision regarding our field for the 2022 U.S. Open should not be construed as the USGA supporting an alternative organizing entity, nor supportive of any individual player actions or comments. Rather, it is simply a response to whether or not the USGA views playing in an alternative event, without the consent of their home tour, an offense that should disqualify them for the U.S. Open.

USGA

With this statement, the LIV players who are already qualified under rules the USGA set earlier this year are in. The USGA is not going to create ex post facto rules.

Good for them.

Unstated, however, was whether those rules would remain in force going forward.

The USGA’s statement that it is “the most open championship in the world” implies that in the future, LIV golfers will be able to play their way in like any other hacker. In 2022, there were 8, 880 golfers competing for 49 spots. A LIV golfer could absolutely play their way through the qualifiers.

However, automatic qualifying may very well be difficult — if not impossible — for most LIV golfers, even if the rules do not change. I am certain that the USGA is counting on this.

Take a look at the current exemptions into the tournament. There aren’t many that an LIV golfer could take advantage of:

  • Winners of the US Open over the last ten years:
    • Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer are in for the near future. Graeme McDowell is out.
  • From the previous US Open, lowest ten scores and ties:
    • That could cover a couple of players, depending on this year’s final results. If LIV golfers are not getting in the tournament in the, though, this becomes impossible (see below).
  • Winner of the previous year’s US Amateur.
    • The USGA could change that to “and still an Amateur,” in response to James Piot’s turning pro with LIV. The winner of the British Am and qualifying via World Amateur ranking must already remain an amateur. The amateur could still go pro after the US Open is over, but a US Am champ who finished back-of-the-pack at the US Open is less attractive monetarily. The reinging US Am would be smarter to cash in on the name while possible.
  • Winner of the previous year’s Junior Am, Mid-Am and US Am runner up.
    • Again, they could change that to “and still an amateur.”
  • Winner of one of the last five Masters:
    • This could spell trouble, depending on what the Green Jackets decide to do. The Masters also has a list of qualifying standards, which an LIV golfer may not be able to meet.
  • Winner of the last five PGA Championships:
    • Going forward, the PGA of America has said LIV players will not get an invite. For the moment, Phil Mickelson qualifies under this category.
  • Winner of the last five Open Championships:
    • Lots of things to unpack here, but the calculus will be much like the ones in this list.
  • Winner of the 2021 BMW PGA Championship:
    • LIV players likely will be excluded from this event
  • Those qualifying for the previous year’s TOUR Championship:
    • LIV players are out of this category
  • Winners of multiple full point PGA TOUR events in the previous year:
    • LIV players are out
  • Winner of the 2021 R&A Amateur:
    • Must still be an amateur to qualify here
  • Winner of the McCormack Medal for #1 Amateur:
    • Must still be an amateur under current rules, unlike current rules for the US Am Champion
  • Winner of the Olympic Gold Medal:
    • That could easily be rescinded. Under current rules, it only applies to the gold medalist from the 2021 Olympics. It remains to be seen if the 2021 winner is exempt into the 2023 US Open.
  • Top 10 aggregate points winners from the US Open 2022 European Qualifying Series:
    • All of these are European Tour events, so that door is closed.
  • Asian Tour top finisher not otherwise exempt:
    • There’s an opportunity there. Play both LIV and the Asian Tour. If the Asian Tour allows it.
  • PGA TOUR of Australasia top finisher not otherwise exempt:
    • Could LIV players also compete on this tour?
  • Sunshine Tour top finisher not otherwise exempt:
    • Would the Sunshine Tour allow LIV players to compete on their tour?

And then there’s the crux of the matter:

  • From the current Official Golf Rankings, top 60 and ties as of May 23
  • From the Official Golf Rankings, top 60 as of June 6 if not otherwise exempt

It is quite possible that no one in LIV will be able to automatically qualify by being in the top 60 of the World Golf Rankings. As of this writing, five LIV players would qualify:

  • Dustin Johnson (15)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (21)
  • Kevin Na (34)
  • Talor Gooch (35)
  • Sergio Garcia (57)

However, they will not be holding on to those rankings for long.

As currently construed, LIV has a very weak field, with an average ranking of 106. The World Golf Ranking points accrued to participants would be equivalent to the European Tour’s minimum, according to Ryan Ballengee. Further, events that are not scheduled for 72 holes (all LIV events are 54 holes) are discounted by 25%.

This could put LIV players into an Official World Golf Ranking death spiral.

A weak field means that participants receive fewer OWGR points and slide down the list. Barring an infusion of higher-ranked talent, the second event will therefore be weaker than the first. The problem just compounds from there, as each successive tournament has weaker fields.

Automatic qualifying via OWGR status may therefore be out of reach.

I am certain that the USGA has looked at this and decided that if they don’t do anything, LIV players will exclude themselves. That neatly avoids the issue.

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