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LIV Golf's Gambit for World Ranking Points Was Clever, but It's Still Unclear If It Will Work

LIV Golf's new partnership with the MENA Tour should help its case with the Official World Golf Ranking, but nothing is certain. Plus, Tom Kim shines again and a closer look at the 2023 schedule.
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BANGKOK – A deep dive into LIV Golf’s integration with MENA Tour – words still strange to say and write – suggests that the seemingly desperate attempt to push through a plan to get Official World Golf Ranking points immediately was at least extremely well thought out and buttoned up

That doesn’t mean it should or will succeed, and the brashness of it followed by the quick pushback from the OWGR has understandably left LIV Golf open to ridicule. The new league has plenty of detractors and plenty of obstacles and could do without the negativity.

And it didn’t help much when Bryson DeChambeau went down the wrong path.

“We’ve hit every mark in their criteria, so for us not to get points is kind of crazy with having the top – at least I believe we have the top players in the world,’’ DeChambeau said.

DeChambeau was referring to the MENA's involvement with the Bangkok event, but in truth, LIV Golf has not hit every mark in the OWGR criteria. And to not acknowledge that while failing to also suggest some changes are in order only leads to the inevitable blowback.

The MENA Tour association was clearly meant to try and circumvent the system by imbedding in an existing tour that is already accredited. LIV Golf and MENA actually checked all the boxes, thoroughly setting up an entity that covers membership criteria, the definition of limited-field events, a season-long money list (it’ll look ridiculous given the disparity in purses) and a secondary points list that allow for MENA Tour members who are not part of LIV Golf to earn a place on the Asian Developmental Tour and future partner tours.

That LIV believed this should have been reviewed and accepted in a day’s time was a strong miscalculation, and again, opened the door for easy mockery.

And yet, there is a good bit to be admired about the “strategic alliance’’ and the thoughts behind its outcome. Given time, perhaps it works. The commissioner of the MENA Tour, David Spencer, expressed surprise that it didn’t immediately gain approval.

“We have had various communications with OWGR since submitting our 2022/23 schedule, MENA Tour handbook, exemption criteria and our field ahead of our opening event of our new season which tees off today,’’ Spencer said in a statement released prior to the opening of the LIV Golf Invitational Series Bangkok event on Friday.

“None of this communication pointed towards any technical reason for the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok to be treated any differently to any MENA Tour event, every one of which has received OWGR since we were accepted into the OWGR framework in 2016.’’

Despite that pushback, it’s just difficult to believe anyone expected the OWGR to greenlight this quest for points in such short order.

All of which brings us to the OWGR. Never has it endured so much scrutiny, especially outside of the way it ranks players – a system that was recently overhauled to better reflect the strength of fields by assigning a value to every player entered in a tournament.

Because the OWGR board includes PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and DP World CEO Keith Pelley – as well as the heads of all four major championships – the organization has credibility issues when it comes to considering LIV Golf’s bid.

LIV is a disrupter, a threat, a rival. Clearly the PGA Tour and DP World Tour want it to go away. And yet the heads of those organizations are key figures in the OWGR process?

Clearly the OWGR was never set up to consider the application of a rival tour. Its stated mission is this: "To administer and publish, on a weekly basis, a transparent, credible, and accurate Ranking based on the relative performances of players participating in male Eligible Golf Tours worldwide." The system is meant to keep the PGA Tour and DP World Tour on top, as any tour that seeks world ranking points must be sponsored by another tour – which in turns offers it qualifying spots. It worked perfectly fine before LIV came along.

In the case of LIV Golf, it was sponsored by the Asian Tour. CEO Greg Norman said the group’s formal application was submitted in July, and this was acknowledged by the OWGR and taken up as a matter of business during the week of the British Open at St Andrews.

According to a source, in the three months since the St. Andrews meeting, the details of LIV’s bid have not been shared with the members of the technical committee. Growing impatient, LIV Golf sought another, faster way to add points through the MENA Tour.

As for the actual OWGR guidelines, there is clearly an issue of transparency. The organization does not share them publicly, and they have leaked in various forms in recent months, often without full context.

But there is a key part of the guidelines – recently shared with Sports Illustrated – that seems to make the entire exercise a farce. After listing all of the various guidelines, it reads:

“The above criteria are guidelines only and the decision to approve a Tour’s admission to the OWGR system shall be at the entire discretion of the Governing Board.’’

It then add three key points: A tour can be admitted without adhering to all of the guidelines; a tour can be denied even if it meets all the criteria; the OWGR can amend the guidelines at any time.

That blows up the argument that LIV doesn’t meet enough of the criteria. The OWGR can basically do as it pleases.

At the recent Dunhill Championship, Rory McIlroy, who has been outspoken in his dislike of LIV Golf, suggested that it would be wrong to deny players such as Dustin Johnson ranking points but that rules are rules.

“So I certainly have no problem with them getting world ranking points,’’ McIlroy said. “But you have to meet the criteria. If you don’t meet the criteria, it’s hard to justify why you should have them.’’

Well … actually, you don’t have to meet all of the criteria, as the OWGR itself said.

This talking point has either been largely missed or ignored, and why LIV Golf – despite coming up short in a few areas – believes its bid should be accepted.

Greg Norman, LIV Golf

Greg Norman's latest move to pressure the OWGR is a partnership with the MENA Tour.

A few OWGR issues to consider:

* Nowhere in the guidelines does it say tournaments must be 72 holes. The required minimum is 54. There are seven tours with ranking points that have schedules mostly consisting of 54-hole events.

* The guidelines require a 36-hole cut. LIV Golf has no cut and this is a true problem for OWGR points, as it would mean every player, every week, would earn points. Easy fix: simply cut to the top 24 and ties after 36 holes, let those who miss the cut play for the team on Sunday and pay out the purse in order of finish. And maybe for a little extra juice, offer a bonus for the player who misses the cut who shoots the low final-round score.

* The guidelines lay out that a tour needs to have some sort of qualifying and ability to gain access to the events. LIV will be a closed shop in 2023 with 48 set players. LIV Golf falls back on its “Promotion Event’’ that will be staged next year, as well as guaranteed spots from the International Series. That’s not enough. Again, easily solved: hold the bottom 12 spots open from tournament to tournament. You could fill some with Monday qualifying, others from the International Series – which is affiliated with LIV – and perhaps even LIV’s own weekly points list.

* An average of 75 players per event. LIV Golf falls far short but has suggested its association with the International Series should alleviate this. So too with the MENA Tour, which will have minimum 120-player fields and a 36-hole cut in at least 10 events, with as many as 14.

* The guidelines say a tour needs to be in operation for a year. LIV Golf pushes back in two ways on this. It suggests with established players and considerable financial backing, it has the funds and infrastructure to deem such lengthy scrutiny necessary. And it points to the OWGR’s own handbook: a tour can be admitted without adhering to all of the guidelines.

LIV Golf is clearly short on a few criteria. But the OWGR has its own issues as it relates to those various points. It’s not an easy situation, and certainly not as simple as “they don’t meet the criteria.’’ LIV could do better to meet more of them, but stands by its basic premise: how credible are the rankings if you are not including high-level professional golfers?

Tom Kim Shines at Shriners

Only three tournaments after his first career PGA Tour win at the Wyndham Championship, Tom Kim added a second title at the Shriners Children’s Open, making him the first player since Tiger Woods in 1996 to win twice before turning 21.

It has been some year for Kim, who only a few months ago had no PGA Tour status and was competing on the Asian Tour.

In January, Kim won the Singapore International tournament. A week later, he tied for second at the Singapore Open. Those results helped him move into the top 80 in the world. He had three more top-5 finishes, then got a sponsor’s invitation to the AT&T Byron Nelson, where he tied for 17th. Although Kim missed the cut at the PGA Championship, he finished 23rd at the U.S. Open and put himself in position to earn his PGA Tour card when he finished third at the Scottish Open.

He secured his card with a seventh-place finish at the Rocket Mortgage and now he’s won twice since then – and also became a star at the Presidents Cup.

“It’s really amazing,’’ Kim said after playing with and holding off Patrick Cantlay, who finished three shots back. “A few months ago, I didn't have any status in the U.S., and now being a two-time winner on Tour, having that place with Tiger, it's an unbelievable feeling for me. It's an honor for me, and it's definitely a dream come true.’’

Fore! Things

1. Tom Kim’s victory at the Shriners was accomplished without making a bogey over 72 holes. He’s the first player to do that since J.T. Poston at the 2019 Wyndham Championship.

2. Jon Rahm joined Seve Ballesteros as a three-time winner of the Spanish Open.

3. Patrick Cantlay’s 60 at the Shriners Children’s Open was the second of his PGA Tour career. The first came in 2011 when he was an amateur and playing in the Travelers Championship.

4. The LIV Golf Invitational Series heads to Jeddah, specifically the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City. The same course now hosts the Saudi International tournament which was a European Tour event for three years before becoming an Asian Tour event in 2022. Harold Varner III won the event in February with a birdie-eagle finish to defeat Bubba Watson by a stroke.

The PGA Tour’s Elevated Events

It has been nearly two months since PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced a series of upgrades to the schedule that included the addition of four elevated events to the eight that were already announced in June.

The four were not named and it is getting close to the time when the Tour will need to disclose those events, for numerous reasons, including the fact that players want to plan their 2023 schedules. For those who want to be part of the Player Impact Program (PIP), playing in these events – for the first time – is required.

The big issue, of course, is money. But so is scheduling. The Tour needs to be careful about picking events that are too close to the existing elevated events – the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Genesis Invitational, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, the Memorial Tournament and the playoff events – the FedEx St. Jude, BMW Championship and Tour Championship.

Money is an issue because these four unnamed events will see their purses rise from the $8 million range to $20 million. Where does the extra $12 million come from? That is likely part of the process being worked out now among the events that are interested in elevating.

It's possible that these tournaments will rotate, but even a one-year commitment for an increase of that amount can cause havoc for title sponsors. Hence, negotiations are taking place. The PGA Tour wants the sponsors to cover as much as possible. The sponsors want the PGA Tour to cover as much as possible.

Once that is worked out and the tournaments determined, the Tour will begin the process of figuring out the elevated events for 2024. With more time, it is possible to see some events change dates in order to accommodate.

More Scheduling Speculation

The Korn Ferry Tour announced its 2023 schedule that will include 26 events beginning in January and ending in October. The October ending point is interesting, as it means that Korn Ferry Tour players won’t be able to compete in the fall PGA Tour events. Or at least not a month’s worth of them. The Korn Ferry Tour Championship is Oct. 5-8 and the top 30 finishers will earn a spot on the PGA Tour for the next season – which won’t start until January.

What about the PGA Tour events that continue through October and into November? The Korn Ferry promotion won’t apply to those events, because they are a continuation of the 2023 PGA Tour season and the Korn Ferry season will determine grads into the 2024 season.

It’s possible that Korn Ferry players could get into fall events based on other criteria such as past champion status or via the top 126-to-150 category.

2023 Masters Countdown

The first round of the Masters is in 185 days with numerous opportunities to earn an invitation through the end of this year. This week’s ZOZO Championship the fourth of nine PGA Tour events this fall that offer an invitation with a victory for those not already qualified.

The final Official World Golf Ranking top 50 at the end of 2022 will also receive invites if not already qualified to play the first major championship of 2023.

There are currently 60 players qualified for the 2023 Masters. They consist of past Masters champions, winners of past PGA Championships, U.S. Opens and British Opens, the finalists for the U.S. Amateur, the winner of the British Amateur, the U.S. Mid Amateur those finished among the top 12 and ties at the 2022 Masters, the top four finishers at the PGA, U.S. Open and British Open, nine PGA Tour winners since the Masters and seven who qualified by making it to the Tour Championship.

Still to be determined are the winners of the Asia Pacific Amateur and the Latin-America Amateur along with the final-year top 50 in the world, PGA Tour winners and those who qualify via the top 50 two weeks prior to the Masters.

Social Matters

-Remember when Brooks and Bryson had a feud

- We will be seeing plenty of photos of the Coliseum during the lead-up to next year’s Ryder Cup.

- Tiger Woods in action.

Next Up

The fourth event of the 2022-23 season takes place outside of Tokyo at the ZOZO Championship, where Hideki Matsuyama is defending champion at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.

This is the fourth year of the tournament that was originally part of a three-event PGA Tour Asia Swing that included the CJ Cup in South Korea and the WGC HSBC Champions. The CJ Cup has been moved to South Korea and the HSBC Champions has not been played since 2019 due to the pandemic.

Tiger Woods won the inaugural ZOZO Championship in 2019 for his 82nd PGA Tour victory.

This is a limited-field, 78-player event with no cut and an $11 million purse, with $1.980 million going to the winner.

Other notables in the field include Xander Schauffele, Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Cam Young and Rickie Fowler, who is in on a sponsor’s exemption.

The ZOZO’s future is in question given the changes to the PGA Tour schedule that will go into place in the fall of 2023, when tournaments played this time of year will no longer be part of a wraparound season.