The Majors Remain Uninterested in Rewarding Talor Gooch and LIV Golfers for Play on Their Tour

Players in the Saudi-backed league must enter qualifiers or play other tours around the world in order to get into golf's biggest events, and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
Apr 6, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Talor Gooch of Smash GC hits a bunker shot onto the seventh green
Apr 6, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Talor Gooch of Smash GC hits a bunker shot onto the seventh green / Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Before even hitting a shot last week, Talor Gooch again set the golf world ablaze. An abrupt “I’m not,” answer to whether or not he would attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open in a few weeks both agitated and amused those who follow this ongoing saga that is part of the current golf wars.

Gooch, 32, is LIV Golf’s reigning player of the year. He led the league’s points list in 2023, capturing three tournaments, finishing second in another and banking more than $34 million in prize money and bonuses.

But to those who run the major championships, it means absolutely nothing.

That is not an opinion or hot take.

It was made clear by two credible officials in this drama: Peter Dawson, the former CEO of the R&A and now the chairman of the Official World Golf Ranking board of directors; and Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National and the Masters, whose organization has one of seven OWGR board seats.

To paraphrase, both have made clear that LIV’s 54-player “closed” tour does not fit their criteria. Dawson said it when LIV’s bid for OWGR accreditation was denied last October. Ridley said when asked last month at the Masters if he could envision the Masters or any major giving direct spots to LIV golfers based on their season-ending Order of Merit or any kind of in-season points list.

“I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that has any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they're basically, not totally, but for the most part, a closed shop,” Ridley said of the LIV Golf League structure. “There is some relegation, but not very much. It all really depends on what new players they sign.

“Those concerns were expressed by the OWGR, but I don't think that that prevents us from giving subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance to those players.”

Ridley praised LIV golfer Joaquin Niemann, who won the Australian Open and played in events for which he was eligible around the world in an effort to earn world ranking points. He was granted a special exemption by the Masters soon after winning LIV’s season-opening event in Mexico—with no mention of that victory by Ridley.

Niemann has also received an invite to the PGA Championship next week and it’s possible that David Puig, a young LIV player who has won twice on the Asian Tour and sits just outside the top 100 in the OWGR, could also get a spot. But it’s all due to their chasing points around the world with no credence giving to LIV.

Which leaves Gooch not eligible for a single major championship this year and apparently unwilling to try and qualify for the two where—given his ability—he’d have an excellent chance of making the field.

Gooch, who finished fourth Sunday in LIV Golf’s Singapore event—three shots behind winner Brooks Koepka—is getting roasted for not trying, and he does himself no favors here. As much as he feels maligned, he and his peers on LIV could not miss the signs that this was how it was going to go play out. The OWGR announcement last fall was the first clue. Ridley’s confirmation at the Masters about LIV’s format was a strong second.

What rankles Gooch and those who support LIV Golf is the fact that he was eligible for three of the major championships last year—the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open—based on having finished among the top 30 in the final FedEx Cup standings in 2022.

Gooch did this despite leaving for LIV Golf and not playing another regular PGA Tour event the rest of the year. He was ineligible for the Tour Championship, but both the Masters and the Open stayed with the original language in their qualifications. The U.S. Open did not. Last February, the USGA tweaked its wording to require a player to have been “eligible” for the season-ending Tour Championship. The Masters and Open didn’t change their wording to take place until this year.

It was an unfortunate move by the USGA and came across as petty. Gooch was the only player impacted. As long as the current rules are in place, no LIV golfer was going to be able to qualify for the majors via the FedEx Cup/Tour Championship loophole. It smacked of going out of the way to keep Gooch out, even if that was not the intent.

Gooch, of course, could have attempted to qualify for last year’s U.S. Open. He tied for 34th at the Masters but his OWGR standing was slipping to where he needed a good week at the PGA—which gave him an exemption because he was top 100 in the OWGR—to stay within the top 60 and earn a U.S. Open spot. He missed the cut, didn’t go to qualifying, missed the cut at the Open and now is looking at having no way into the majors.

Meanwhile, 35 of LIV’s 46 non-exempt players for the U.S. Open are scheduled to compete in final qualifying. That is up from the 16 (out of 38) who tried to qualify last year. Clearly, players got the message or LIV is encouraging them to try to get in.

One of those players scheduled for a final qualifier is Andy Ogletree, the 2019 U.S. Amateur champion who last year won the Asian Tour’s and International Series Order of Merit. That distinction will get him in the PGA next week as well as the Open in July. He’s not officially in yet, but in a few weeks, the U.S. Open will also put him in the field via that category (top 2 not otherwise exempt; if Ogletree were to win the PGA, for example, that USGA would give the Asian Tour another spot).

But here’s where it gets uneasy for the majors: is Ogletree a better player than Gooch? Is Puig? Is Niemann?

Gooch’s season on LIV last year might mean nothing to the majors and the OWGR but what he accomplished last year has to mean something. In nine tournaments as part of LIV Golf, Ogletree has finished ahead of Gooch just one time. Puig, who is being hailed for playing an abundance of Asian Tour events to try and boost his OWGR ranking, has never contended in a LIV event, never once finished ahead of Gooch and has just a single top-10 finish. Puig tied for 27th in Singapore and Ogletree tied for 45th.

Even Niemann, who has won twice on LIV Golf this year, only finished ahead of Gooch three times in 13 LIV events in 2023. He tied for seventh in Singapore.

What does this suggest? For a few players who have made their way into majors, they haven’t exactly burned it up on LIV Golf, which might not be deep, but still has a healthy number of players at the top of its roster. Nobody would dispute that Jon Rahm, Koepka, Cam Smith, Bryson DeChambeau, Tyrrell Hatton and Dustin Johnson are world-class players and there are several more such as Louis Oosthuizen, Dean Burmester, Sergio Garcia and others who are highly capable.

It can also mean that the Asian Tour is not particularly strong when guys who are dominating its money list and winning events are struggling to move into the upper echelon at LIV Golf.

Does that mean that Gooch should be in the U.S. Open?

That is clearly the subject of this debate. But again, beating all those guys, even in a format deemed unappealing by the major powers that be, means more than zero. Gooch, who was 624th in the OWGR, is ranked 41st in the Data Golf Rankings and 17th by TUGR.

Those systems include LIV events, so by their metrics, Gooch would be exempt. (It is important to note that Data Golf has said that its scoring-based system has too many downsides to be used as an official ranking tool. Data Golf offered an explanation here.)

And so here we are.

The OWGR and the majors believe the LIV format is not worthy of their consideration.

The LIV leaders decided not to purse OWGR accreditation by making changes that could lead to the league getting accredited. (Both sides are to blame for that mess. i.e., sit down and figure it out.)

And things are only bound to get worse when a few more LIV players see their major exemptions expire.

Bottom line: without some kind of deal that sees a change to the system, LIV golfers who want to compete in the majors better get used to playing even more around the world. Or heading to qualifying.

Jordan Spieth’s rocky road

He is not making excuses, even though Jordan Spieth admitted that the only thing that will ultimately help his wrist is rest. He says he can’t do further damage and knows how to play through the issues it is causing him. But you have to wonder how much it is impacting his play.

Spieth talked last week about having paused for a reset prior to the CJ Cup Byron Nelson, then proceeded to miss his fourth cut in his last six tournaments. Included in that stretch was the Players Championship and the Masters.

Jordan Spieth stands on the 12th fairway during the first round of the 2024 CJ Cup Byron Nelson
Jordan Spieth has missed four cuts in six events, including last week at his hometown CJ Cup Byron Nelson. / Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Still just 30, Spieth is ranked 20th in the Official World Golf Ranking and is seemingly always lurking. He’s had three top 10s this year, including a tie for 10th at the Valero Texas Open, but hasn’t really contended in months. And he admitted that three top 10s to this point is not exactly what he had in mind.

His 13 PGA Tour victories is an impressive haul, but he’s coming up on seven years since winning the third of his three majors at the 2017 British Open and since that time he’s won just twice on the PGA Tour.

It is that kind of discussion that doesn’t make the current situation any easier on Spieth.

Asked a question in his pre-tournament news conference last week about May being mental health month, Spieth responded in this way:

“I think a lot of things I struggled with that have certainly affected me mentally are a lot of comparisons,” he said, acknowledging that he, too, can’t help but compare himself to the past.

“It’s hard not to, especially when you have so much success early in your career. Not only are you compared to the outside world to that person, but I have a hard time wondering why I can’t do that every week, too.”

Spieth was asked what it’s like to see Scottie Scheffler get on the kind of roll he’s been on of late. Scheffler, 27, lives in Dallas like Spieth, and the two play a good amount of golf together. The Masters champion has won four of his last five starts and will be a big favorite to win a third major championship next week at the PGA Championship.

“I have known Scottie since he was really, really young. Not that I wasn't, but he was really, really young,” Spieth said. “I think he's a better person than he is a player, and having known somebody and seen them come up and obviously went to University of Texas, I'm nothing but extremely excited and happy for him. It's well deserved and all that.

“And then on the flip side, like it's kind of the first time I've ever looked at somebody younger than me and I've driven inspiration. Like I am inspired by what he is doing. It makes me want to go out and get better, and that's always been someone that's older than me. Kind of the first time I felt that way about somebody that's younger.

“Because I play a decent amount of rounds with him here in town. I'm constantly seeing it and trying to beat him at home, and when he's playing better than I am, it sucks. I don't enjoy it when I'm side by side because there were however many years of our life it wasn't that way.

“It's flipped and I feel like I've got plenty of runway to be able to get it back. It's inspiring at the same time to try make that happen. I have nothing in my way of being able to make that happen but my own self. I've got enough. I believe in my ceiling, and I believe my ceiling is as high as anybody's. I have to get each part of my game up towards its ceiling.”

The wrist issue first became a problem last year. It actually kept him from playing his hometown event the week after the Wells Fargo Championship. Those tournaments have switched dates this year and Spieth is set for a good bit of golf ahead with the PGA following the Wells Fargo and then the possibility that he plays Colonial. After a week off, Spieth would then likely play the Memorial, U.S. Open and Travelers Championship in consecutive weeks.

“It’s a lot of managing it,” he said. “I'm kind of doing a couple different things to help treat the symptoms that I experience and to not have some recurring problems that have happened. And so I'm doing a lot of stuff off the course, therapy side, whether it's treating tendon to treating the nerve in general. I think that that's helping.

“I kind of maybe got a little bit away from it as I got into a heavier stretch of golf the last eight weeks so I had a couple instances that weren't good. I don't plan on that happening going forward with what I'm doing off the course even though I will be playing a lot of golf.”

Signature event No. 6 ... and other notes

Everyone who is eligible for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship is competing—except for one big one. Reigning No. 1 and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is a no-show. He’s got good reason. His wife, Meredith, is expecting the couple’s first child.

It should be noted that had there been no baby watch, there’s a good chance Scheffler would have skipped Quail Hollow anyway. He didn’t play the tournament last year. And he almost assuredly would have played his hometown Byron Nelson tournament.

In any case, the sixth of eight Signature Events it follows The Sentry, AT&T Pebble Beach, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational and RBC Heritage. After the Wells Fargo is next week’s PGA Championship. Following Colonial and the RBC Canadian Open is the seventh Signature Event, the Memorial, the U.S. Open and then the final Signature Event, the Travelers Championship.

And a few more things

The field of the Wells Fargo is 70 players, comprising 48 who are locked via the FedEx Cup from 2023, 10 from the FedEx Cup category, five from the swing category (Zurich Classic and Byron Nelson), four sponsor exemptions, and three players who won PGA Tour events this year not otherwise including Taylor Pendrith, who got his first victory Sunday at the CJ Cup Byron Nelson and will get his first signature event start. ... He will also get a spot in next week’s PGA Championship as well as next year’s Players and the Masters. ... The field size again suggests the Tour should look at this at the end of the year and consider expanding with reserves or broadening categories to get to 78 players ... Ben Kohles, who bogeyed the 18th hole to lose by a shot to Pendrith, also gets into the Wells Fargo via the Swing Five category.

Webb Simpson got one of the sponsor exemptions, and since he lives at Quail Hollow, that makes sense. But it is his fourth such free pass into a signature event and it’s just his eighth start of the year. As a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board, that is causing some concern. Adam Scott, also on the board, is getting his third sponsor invite to a signature event. The others went to Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar.

The PGA Championship is expected to finalize its field this week by inviting players otherwise not exempt who are among the top 100 in the OWGR. It can go beyond 100 and also invite those from the PGA points list, which assures spots to the top 70 via PGA Tour performance from last year’s Byron Nelson through this year’s. ... The PGA Championship begins in 10 days.


Published
Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.