With the U.S. Open completed, the golf world may again find itself focusing on the LIV Golf Invitational Series, given that its second event — and first on American soil — is set to tee off in less than two weeks.
That effort became more public over the weekend, when LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman made an appearance on Fox News in which he pointed out that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan sits on the OWGR’s eight-member governing board. Monahan has indefinitely suspended PGA Tour players who signed with LIV Golf, and last week he vehemently defended that decision, stating on CBS that such players would not be allowed to “free-ride” off the cachet of his organization.
“It’ll be interesting to see if Jay Monahan recuses himself from that vote because of what he said on television with Jim Nantz the other day,” Norman said Saturday on Fox News’s “One Nation with Brian Kilmeade.”
“So it’s very interesting and it’s sad to be putting that additional exerting pressure on it, because our tour is a good tour. It’s supported; it’s got an incredible field. OWGR points should be granted, and if we get the OWGR points, then everything else takes care of itself.”
It’s a crucial matter for the upstart, Saudi-funded venture because the world rankings are a major factor in determining eligibility for the four majors. Without OWGR accreditation, players who focus on the eight LIV events over other circuits will slip in the rankings, which could diminish the allure of the series’ massive purses and signing bonuses.
“We’re actually applying for OWGR points right now,” said Norman, who added that it was a “very compelling” application. “We’ve worked very, very closely with the technical committee, understanding all the components of what you need to apply for it.”
While the star power assembled by LIV Golf, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, undoubtedly has the attention of OWGR officials, other hurdles remain. LIV’s intentionally unorthodox approach includes 54-hole tournaments contested by just 48 players, with no cuts. Those changes to standard professional golf formats could make it difficult for the OWGR board to determine how much weight to give LIV events.
The biggest issue for LIV Golf, though, could be the OWGR’s decision-makers, all of whom are deeply connected to the existing structure of top-level golf and some of whom have expressed discomfort with the Saudi-backed venture. In addition to Monahan, others on the governing board include U.S. Golf Association CEO Mike Whan, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, International Federation of PGA Tours official Keith Waters and DP World Tour (formerly known as the PGA European Tour) chief executive Keith Pelley.
The USGA allowed LIV golfers who were suspended by the PGA Tour but had already qualified for the U.S. Open to compete. But Whan recently said it was a fluid situation and he could “foresee a day” when players banned by the PGA Tour might have a harder time making major fields.
“What we’re talking about [with LIV Golf] was different two years ago, and it was different two months ago than it is today,” the USGA CEO told reporters during a pretournament media session. “We’ve been doing this for 127 years, so I think [the USGA] needs to take a long-term view of this and see where these things go.”
“I’m saddened by what’s happening in the professional game,” Whan added. “Mostly as a fan, because I like watching the best players in the world come together and play, and this is going to fracture that. I’ve heard that this is good for the game. At least from my outside view right now, it looks like it’s good for a few folks playing the game, but I’m struggling with how this is good for the game.”
Waugh echoed those remarks last month when he said his organization was “a fan of the current ecosystem and world golf ranking system and everything else that goes into creating the best field in golf.” Asked whether LIV golfers were likely to be included in the 2023 PGA Championship field, he replied: “I don’t know what it’ll look like next year. We don’t think this is good for the game.”
In his comments on Fox News, Norman said his conviction that “golf is a force for good” made him comfortable partnering with the Saudi regime, which has been criticized for human rights violations and was implicated in the 2018 assassination of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“To me, if golf is good for the world, golf is good for Saudi [Arabia],” he said, “and you’re seeing that growth internally there. It’s extremely impressive.”
The two-time British Open winner and former world No. 1 was shown a clip of Turner Sports’ Bob Costas declaring recently on CNN that LIV Golf players were taking “Saudi blood money.”
“Look, I’m disappointed people go down that path, quite honestly,” Norman said on Fox News. “If they want to look at it in that prism, then why does the PGA Tour have 23 sponsors doing 40-plus billion dollars’ worth of business with Saudi Arabia? Why is it okay for the sponsors?”
“Will Jay Monahan go to each and every one of those CEOs of the 23 companies that are investing into Saudi Arabia,” Norman continued, “and suspend them and ban them? The hypocrisy in all this, it’s so loud, it’s deafening.”
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