2022 British Open: R&A takes stance: LIV model ‘entirely driven by money,’ undermines the game of golf
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The major championships have spoken.
Now, it remains to be seen exactly what the game’s four majors will do to answer the challenge from LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed startup league that is wooing top players away from the established tours and creating a disruption across the professional golf landscape.
The last major to join the conversation publicly was the R&A, which is hosting this week’s Open Championship at St. Andrews and had been leaning in the direction of the established tours. On Wednesday at the Old Course, chief executive Martin Slumbers appeared to remove any ambiguity.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch. I believe the model we’ve seen at [at the first two LIV events] is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money,” Slumbers said. “We believe it undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special.”
Slumbers stopped well short of saying that those players who join LIV Golf will be banned from playing the game’s oldest championship, but he did send the message that the R&A is not a fan of the rival league and its impact on professional golf’s current ecosystem.
“I can look in the eye of any boy or any parent of that boy and know that, if he comes into the game and wants to get to the top, wants to play this game, that there is a pathway to the top totally based on his ability and his willingness to work hard,” Slumbers said. “That has been fought for by our sport for 100 years, that pathway from picking up a golf club to playing at the top level. I think it’s worth fighting for. And that pathway is the biggest piece of the ecosystem for me.”
Wednesday’s press conference follows last week’s decision by the R&A to not invite Greg Norman, a two-time winner of The Open and the CEO of LIV Golf, to this week’s Celebration of Champions event or attend Tuesday’s Champions’ Dinner. Slumbers explained that he didn’t want Norman or LIV Golf to become a distraction.
The R&A was the final piece of the Grand Slam puzzle for the PGA Tour, which has drawn the hardest line against LIV Golf by indefinitely suspending its members who joined the league.
Last month, USGA CEO Mike Whan was asked if he could envision it becoming more difficult for LIV players to gain entry into the U.S. Open field. “Yes,” he replied, before explaining, “We’re talking about this next year, but we’re going to definitely re-evaluate field criteria.”
The PGA of America also appears entrenched on the PGA Tour’s side of this dispute, with CEO Seth Waugh saying earlier this year, “We are big supporters of the ecosystem as it stands. We think the [LIV] league structure is somewhat flawed.”
The Masters and Augusta National was the most vague of the four majors, with club chairman Fred Ridley telling reporters in April, “We have been pretty clear in our belief that the world tours have done a great job in promoting the game over the years.
“Beyond that, there’s so much that we don’t know about what might happen or could happen that I just don’t think I could say much more beyond that.”
The larger issue behind eligibility into the majors will be the world ranking with the OWGR board announcing Wednesday that LIV Golf has requested to be included in the ranking. The OWGR said little other than that LIV had filed the application and that “examination of the application will now commence.”
As a member of the OWGR board, which met Tuesday in St. Andrews, Slumbers was asked his thoughts on LIV events, which are 54 holes and limited to 48-man fields, being awarded ranking points.
“The OWGR made a statement late last night about the application from LIV,” he said, “and I have nothing further to add to that point and will not add to anything more on that point.”