BROOKLINE, Mass. – Since last week, when several top golfers exposed a schism in the men’s professional game by rejecting the established PGA Tour to join the Saudi-backed LIV golf circuit, the sport has been waiting for its power brokers to weigh in in.
The biggest prizes in golf, the events that shape legacies, generate the best sponsorship dollars and are marked on every player’s calendar, are the main championships: the Masters Tournament, the US Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. But none of these four events are governed by a professional tour, whether old or new. They are overseen by four separate entities sometimes referred to as the Four Families of Golf (insert organized crime joke here).
These organizations are now the pillars of the battle for the future of men’s professional golf. When the PGA Tour retaliated last week by suspending 17 players who had lined up with LIV Golf, the question was whether major championship leaders Augusta National Golf Club (the Masters), the United States The Golf Association (the US Open), the R&A (the British Open) and the PGA of America (the PGA Championship) would choose a team. Longtime allies to the recognized circuits in the United States and Europe, would they snub the alternative series LIV Golf Invitational and exclude its players from their events?
On Wednesday there was a partial response and that could not have comforted big-name players like Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, who insisted they could still play the majors while accepting the hundreds of millions of dollars distributed by LIV Golf, whose main shareholder is the Private Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
While all LIV Golf-affiliated players who had already qualified for this week’s US Open at the Country Club outside Boston were welcomed, USGA chief executive Mike Whan said on Wednesday. that his organization would consider ways that might make it more difficult for LIV Golf players to attend the event in the future.
Whan was asked if he could see a situation where LIV Golf players would find it “increasingly difficult” to enter the US Open.
“Yes,” he answered.
Asked to elaborate, Whan said, “Can I foresee a day? Yeah, I could foresee one day.
Whan warned that the USGA would not act recklessly but would no doubt “re-evaluate” its qualifying criteria.
“The question was, could you imagine a day when it would be harder for some people doing different things to get into a US Open?” he said. “I could.”
There were other statements from Whan that didn’t sound like endorsements of the LIV Golf Invitational series, which held its inaugural tournament last weekend outside London and still lacks the backing of the majority of the best. PGA Tour players. But the breakaway circuit surprisingly attracted some high-profile players, most of whom had professed loyalty to the US-based PGA Tour weeks or even days earlier.
“I’m saddened by what’s happening in the professional game,” Whan said. He continued, “I heard it was good for the game. At least from my outside perspective right now, it looks like it’s good for a few people playing the game, but I had to hard to understand how good it is for the game.”
Whan, who was the longtime commissioner of the LPGA until he took charge of the USGA last summer, also stressed that it was essential that each of golf’s leaders work cohesively during of the assessment of the role that LIV Golf would play.
“We have to see what becomes of it – if it’s an exhibition or a tour?” he said. “I’ve said it many times, I’ve seen a lot of things start in the game, maybe nothing with that amount of noise or that amount of funding behind it, but I’ve also seen a lot of those things not be with us a few years later.
“One event doesn’t change the way I think about the future of the sport.”
And significantly, when Whan was asked if the suspensions imposed by the PGA Tour would catch his attention when the USGA re-evaluates its criteria for future US Opens, Whan was quick to reply, “They already have. This caught our attention for this championship.
Whan’s comments come a month after PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh strongly supported the PGA Tour, calling it part of what he called the golf ecosystem.
“Our bylaws say you have to be a recognized member of a recognized tour to be a PGA member somewhere, and therefore eligible to play,” Waugh said, speaking of the PGA Championship.
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
A new series. The controversial new Saudi-funded LIV Golf series held its first event in June. But what is it? Who plays it? What is all this hubbub and how can you watch it? Here’s what you need to know:
Speaking to the LIV Golf Tour, Waugh said: “I don’t know if it’s a league, it’s not a league at this point – but the structure of the league is somewhat flawed.”
So where does that leave the other two major championships and their likely answers to the LIV Golf Tour, which will play five events in the United States this year starting June 30 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, outside of Portland, Ore.
As with the US Open this week, British Open officials may struggle to exclude players who have already qualified for this year’s event, which kicks off July 14 in St. Andrews, Scotland, and would include Mickelson and Johnson. . This means the next, and potentially the first, major championship forced into the PGA Tour-LIV Golf showdown will be the Masters.
In April, Augusta National President Fred Ridley was asked if players joining a rival PGA Tour would be invited to play in the Masters. Ridley said: “Our mission is always to act in the best interests of the game, whatever form that may take. I think golf is doing well right now.
Over the years, Augusta National has honored extremely traditional values and been reluctant to change. And Ridley no doubt heard what Whan had to say on Wednesday, if the two haven’t already discussed the matter on the phone.
On the eve of the 122nd US Open, will Whan’s statements slow the exodus of PGA Tour players, especially after the British Open has been contested?
It’s hard to say. He will continue to be particularly attractive to the demographic that has been most receptive to monetary incentives from LIV Golf: aging players beyond their bonuses.
But if there was one message in Whan’s answers to the 13 questions he faced on Wednesday about LIV Golf introducing or intruding into his sport, it’s that he doesn’t consider it as per usual. He could have been evasive about the new tour and biding his time. Above all, he instead suggested that it was not good for golf.
It was a telling observation from one of the most powerful bosses in golf’s big championship families.