Even as the 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.
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.
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.
Ernie Els and Jim Furyk are not candidates to join the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series. They’re still concerned about where golf is headed, particularly how a boost in prize money on the PGA Tour might affect the PGA Tour Champions.
“I guess we missed the boat, and that’s really sad for some of these guys, because these guys have supported these tours all of their careers, in some cases close to 40 years,” Els said. “We’d like to see our Champions Tour grow. We’ve got great sponsorships, good support, but it’s scary times for a lot of people.”
Furyk is No. 4 on the career PGA Tour money list at just over $71 million. He trails Dustin Johnson, who no longer is listed because he resigned his membership to join LIV Golf.
“That’s where I played my career, made my living. That’s where my heart is. So I have concerns,” Furyk said. “Then, yeah, kind of a trickle-down effect. How does that affect us from PGA Tour Champions and the over-50 crowd? I feel like we’re in a really good place right now.
“There’s got to be someone a little smarter than me who will tell you how that will trickle down and affect us, but in a minimal way,” he said. “I really enjoy the tour and playing out there and hope that effect is not really strong.”
Among the criteria to be exempt for the British Open is to be among the leading five players not already eligible from the top 20 in the FedEx Cup through the Travelers Championship.
The top 20 players already are exempt.
Those five spots presumably are relegated to the reserves, which is based on the world ranking, and the list could be long.
Going into the final two weeks, 118 players have earned a spot at St. Andrews.
Ten more spots are awarded through top finishers in the Irish Open (three), John Deere Classic (three), Scottish Open (three) and Barbasol Championship (one). The R&A added one extra spot to its four regional qualifiers for a total of 16 spots available Tuesday.
That would bring the total to 144 players.
Aaron Wise at No. 45 is a lock to get in off the reserve list. He's currently followed in the world ranking (of those not already exempt) by Brian Harman (No. 49), Sebastian Munoz (No. 50), Sepp Straka (No. 55) and Luke List (No. 60).
Also in reasonable shape is Sahith Theegala, whose runner-up finish in the Travelers Championship moved him to No. 66. The next world ranking is what is used for the reserve list for The Open.
Jack Nicklaus and Bernhard Langer each made it to their 14th full season on the senior circuit before finally missing the cut in a major.
But there are a few differences.
There were only four majors for Nicklaus — the Senior British Open wasn’t part of the PGA Tour Champions schedule until 2002. Plus, the Golden Bear was still playing the regular majors until his streak of 146 consecutive majors ended at the 1998 British Open.
He went 46 senior majors until missing the cut at Aronimink in the 2003 PGA Championship.
Langer is in is 14th year on the PGA Tour Champions and went 64 consecutive majors — all but the Tradition and Seniors Player Championship have a cut — before he missed by two shots at the U.S. Senior Open last week.
The series of three international events the PGA Tour has planned for the fall will have more than 50-man fields. They will include the top 50 from the FedEx Cup, along with top performers from fall events and additional eligibility. The field size is likely to be around 60. ... The 48-man field for the LIV Golf event in Oregon has 22 players who have or had PGA Tour membership to start the season. ... In Gee Chun ended South Korea's drought of seven majors without a win. It was the longest such stretch since 2009-2011. ... Players from six countries are in the top 10 of the men's and women's world ranking. ... Dylan Menante, No. 11 in the world amateur ranking, had rounds of 62-64-64-67 at Wannamoisett to win the Northeast Amateur by nine shots and break the tournament record by four shots. ... Annika Sorenstam will partner with Madelene Sagstrom in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, the team event on the LPGA Tour. It will be the second LPGA-sanctioned event the 51-year-old Sorenstam plays this year.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Brian Stuard has played every PGA Tour event for which he has been eligible this season (28) and is 131st in the FedEx Cup.
“I’ve been on both sides of it. The way I see it, if you play the best golf, they’re going to let you play in the best tournaments.” — Harris English, on the PGA Tour's new schedule of only the top players competing in the richest tournaments.
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