LIV Golf loses its bid to earn ranking points over questions about a closed shop

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FILE - Dustin Johnson, right, receives The Mark H McCormack award for being the leading playing in the Official World Golf rankings for 2018, from OWGR Chairman Peter Dawson during a ceremony ahead of the British Open golf championships at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Dawson says the OWGR has denied the application for LIV Golf to receive ranking points. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)

LIV Golf is playing only for cash, not world ranking points, after the Official World Golf Ranking board determined it could not fairly measure the 48-man league with the other 24 tours around the world.

The OWGR rejected the application from Saudi-backed LIV Golf, first submitted in July 2022 after the league already had played two of its 54-hole, no-cut events.

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“We are not at war with them,” Peter Dawson, chairman of the OWGR board, said when contacted by The Associated Press. “This decision not to make them eligible is not political. It is entirely technical. LIV players are self-evidently good enough to be ranked. They're just not playing in a format where they can be ranked equitably with the other 24 tours and thousands of players trying to compete on them.”

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, European tour CEO Keith Pelley and Keith Waters of the International Federation of PGA Tours previously recused themselves from the LIV Golf decision to avoid any conflict of interest.

The committee that rejected LIV's application comprised leaders from Augusta National, the PGA of America, the U.S. Golf Association and The R&A, which run the four majors. The majors use the OWGR as part of their qualifying criteria.

It notified LIV Golf of its decision with a letter the OWGR later posted on its website.

“OWGR’s sole objective is to rank the best players across the globe. Today’s communication makes clear that it can no longer deliver on that objective,” LIV Golf said in a statement.

LIV said a ranking that doesn’t fairly represent all players regardless of where they play would deprive fans and players. Noting that majors rely on the world ranking, “It also robs some traditional tournaments of the best fields possible.”

“Professional golf is now without a true or global scoring and ranking system,” the LIV statement said. “There is no benefit for fans or players from the lack of trust or clarity as long as the best player performances are not recognized.”

LIV Golf, which has two events left in its second season, has 48 players competing over 54 holes with no cut and a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million awarded in a simultaneous team competition.

Dawson, a non-voting member of the committee, said the OWGR could work around some of the requirements, such as a 36-hole cut and having an average field size of 75 players over the course of a season.

But the committee could not get past what amounts to a closed shop.

LIV Golf has the same 48 players for the entire season (with alternates in case of injury) and not enough turnover. While the top 24 players are assured a spot the following season, LIV Golf signed several players to lucrative contracts that assure them a spot on the roster regardless of their performance.

Among those currently outside the top 24 are Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter.

Three players are to be added for the 2024 season through a promotions tournament, with a fourth player — Andy Ogletree — advancing through the International Series on the Asian Tour. LIV Golf can choose to add others by recruiting, such as signing up Mito Pereira and Thomas Pieters ahead of the 2023 season.

Most tours around the world typically have a turnover rate of 20% to 25%.

LIV Golf made its debut in June 2022, and the lack of world ranking points has taken an enormous toll. Players who joined the rival league were suspended by the PGA Tour and European tour, and their only access to points came during the majors and Asian Tour events.

When LIV Golf complete its inaugural season, it had 12 players from the top 50 in the world (led by British Open champion Cameron Smith) and 24 of the top 100. In this week's ranking, Smith (No. 15) and PGA champion Brooks Koepka (No. 18) are the only players from the top 50, and LIV has only six players among the top 100.

Among those no longer in the top 100 are Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Talor Gooch, who has three LIV Golf victories this year. LIV players have mocked the OWGR for not being credible without offering them ranking points.

“Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, of course they should be in the ranking,” Dawson said. “We need to find a way to get that done. I hope that LIV can find a solution — not so much their format; that can be dealt with through a mathematical formula — but the qualification and relegation.”

The OWGR committee also raised concerns over the team aspect of LIV, particularly a moment involving Sebastian Munoz at a LIV Golf event in Florida a week before the Masters.

Koepka had a one-shot lead on the final hole, with he and Munoz both about 40 feet away for birdie. Koepka went first and left the putt just over 4 feet away. Munoz needed to make birdie to force a playoff. However, his Torque team had a one-shot lead. Munoz lagged his putt to just inside 4 feet and made par.

“I knew we were one stroke ahead on the team, so I couldn’t go extra. I knew I couldn’t be too aggressive,” Munoz said when it was over.

LIV Golf can reapply to be part of the OWGR system, though the board made it clear that turnover, objective access to LIV Golf and relegating players who don't perform remain key points in getting ranking points.

There's also the matter of the PGA Tour, the European tour and the Saudi backers of LIV Golf (the Public Investment Fund) working out a commercial partnership announced in June. One of the provisions is evaluating the future of team golf.


AP golf:

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