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World Ranking Body Formally Shoos LIV Golf Back To The Kids’ Table

Dustin Johnson crouches on the green during a LIV Golf event, with a large "LIV GOLF" sign in the background. He is wearing shorts.
Photo by Ben Hsu/Icon Sportswire

The Official World Golf Ranking announced Tuesday that it will not award ranking points to players for participating in the tournaments of the breakaway Saudi-funded LIV Golf tour. As OWGR points are used to determine who qualifies for several of the sport's biggest and most prestigious events, this decision sucks rather enormously for LIV Golf organizers and for the tour's 50 or so players, the majority of whom have not earned any of the various exemptions that allow a player to participate in golf's annual majors without having passed the relevant OWGR points thresholds. It's the shorts. By God we do not accept the showing of gams in the sport of golf, explains the OWGR. You will wear pants or you will rot in hell!

It's not the shorts. To the extent that LIV Golf has ever offered any selling points as a competitive product, the only ones worth notice are little competitive tweaks designed to make its whole deal sound easier and thus more appealing to the crop of players it was attempting to lure away from the sport's established tours during its launch. LIV Golf tournaments are three-day affairs featuring just 54 holes of golf. The field is limited to 48 players, and there is no cut-down from the first to the final round. Players are sorted into teams and are awarded for team performance, on top of their individual scores across a tournament. And, crucially, certain big-name LIV Golf pros have lucrative guaranteed contracts, and are thus protected from losing their eligibility for LIV Golf events. All of these tweaks pose a challenge for the OWGR, which is tasked with awarding points equitably to players across two dozen organized tours; the OWGR ultimately considers these peculiarities of LIV Golf to be "areas of non-conformance" with the ranking body's criteria.

In a letter posted to the organization's website Tuesday, OWGR chairman Peter Dawson says that most of these points—size of field, number of holes, and lack of cut—could theoretically be fairly managed, for ranking purposes, by "an appropriate mathematical formula." But there are two areas where the OWGR is unwilling to budge: LIV Golf's lack of player selection criteria and related absence of relegation, and that whole dumb sorting of players into four-man teams. The OWGR is concerned, says Dawson, that without any mechanism in place for qualifying new players or disqualifying underperforming old ones—and while LIV Golf uses mysterious criteria to protect 14 players from the 2023 roster "who will be invited back for 2024 regardless of their performance this year"—LIV Golf tournaments would be preferentially fast-tracking their contracted players to world ranking points. Dawson's letter stops just shy of calling LIV Golf tournaments a bunch of baloney:

"While we understand you are projecting a higher turnover rate and that you are considering selection criteria along the lines of what you are using for your Promotions Event, the Board Committee has determined that the current structure is not consistent with the underlying principles of fairness and meritocracy on which the OWGR system is based and have been the basis for its application decisions over the years. Simply put, the Board Committee does not believe it is equitable to thousands of players who strive every day to get starts in OWGR Eligible Tournaments to have a tour operate in this mostly-closed fashion where it is not possible to fairly assess what it means to win a LIV event relative to the other tournaments around the world."

Dawson briefly outlines a somewhat less strongly held concern among Board Committee members about teammates—two members of, say, Cleeks GC—being grouped together for a round of a LIV Golf tournament, and what that might mean for the integrity of the competition.

LIV Golf railed against the decision in a statement Tuesday, saying it "robs fans, players and all of golf’s stakeholders of the objective basis underpinning any accurate recognition of the world’s best player performances," and also "robs some traditional tournaments of the best fields possible." The OWGR's announcement, says LIV Golf, unfairly deprives players of opportunities "to qualify for Major Championships, the biggest events, and for corporate sponsor contract value," and "makes clear" that the OWGR "can no longer deliver" on its mission of providing an objective ranking of the world's best players.

Dawson told the Associated Press that the OWGR is "not at war" with LIV Golf and insisted that this decision is "not political." But he reiterated that the competitive quirks of LIV Golf's tournaments mean that the tour's players "are not playing in a format where they can be ranked equitably" with the rest of the world's players. In the OWGR letter Dawson sort of cheerfully invites LIV Golf to resubmit their application "should you make any modifications that impact the areas of non-conformance or should the facts above otherwise change." No problem, guys: Simply overhaul the competitive framework of your dipshit operation and then we will reconsider your paperwork. Denied!

There is, of course, one very serious way that "the facts above" might otherwise change: The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which funds and operates LIV Golf, announced back in June that it had entered into a merger agreement with the hostile PGA Tour, bringing to a queasy conclusion multiple ongoing lawsuits and months of superheated public mudslinging, and finally putting PIF chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan atop the world of men's professional golf. PGA Tour president Jay Monahan is slated to ascend to the role of chairman of this new behemoth; one of his first responsibilities will be to unilaterally decide the fate of the LIV Golf tour, which is nominally under the stewardship of former pro Greg Norman but has been Al-Rumayyan's plaything all along. Monahan normally sits on the OWGR Board Committee, but formally recused himself from participating in the process to determine LIV Golf's eligibility. With the OWGR shoving LIV Golf further from legitimacy, the dopey tour—which will soon wrap its second season with a tournament at Donald Trump's golf club outside Miami—starts to look even more like a useless appendage, once important for forcing the PGA Tour to the table, but now just an expensive and noisy sideshow.

The trouble is, no one knows for sure whether Monahan will ever get to wield that particular axe. The proposed PIF-PGA Tour entity will face waves of regulatory scrutiny before it is ever allowed to formally begin operations; among other things, it will have to explain how merging together an existing juggernaut with the infinitely wealthy outfit accusing it in federal court of antitrust violations somehow clears the combined enterprise of anticompetitive dominance of its industry. Though no one doubts any longer whether Al-Rumayyan will eventually find a way to bring Saudi cash to the world's biggest golf promotion, pushing the specific entity that was announced in June over the finish line may yet prove impossible. When Monahan emerged in August from a mysterious late-summer illness-related disappearance, the few players who attended his meeting about the merger sounded deeply unconvinced that it will ever be consummated.

“Who knows what the path is going forward?" wondered American pro Tom Hoge. "I’ll guess we’ll just wait and see.” This could be an awful lot of waiting and seeing for players who are wondering what the hell shape the next phase of their careers will take and who will be signing their paychecks, some of whom are seeking clarity on the matter of whether their nominal membership organization is now functionally under the control of a sovereign wealth fund, and others of whom just found out that their flashy new employer has been relegated to Mickey Mouse status.

"There are a lot of things that have to come together for this to happen, and I would say that you’d have to sell everyone on that this is the best option for the tour, for the players, for everyone moving forward," said PGA Tour pro Ricky Fowler. "I’m not saying that’s not possible.” As this whole thing gets stupider, basically anything is.

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