USGA Officials Suggest LIV Golfers Could Get Direct Access to Future U.S. Opens

While taking a wait-and-see approach to what happens atop pro golf, USGA CEO Mike Whan said very limited exemptions could be reserved for LIV players starting with next year's U.S. Open.
USGA CEO Mike Whan said U.S. Open exemptions for LIV Golf will be discussed in the offseason.
USGA CEO Mike Whan said U.S. Open exemptions for LIV Golf will be discussed in the offseason. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

PINEHURST, N.C. — Officials at the United States Golf Association said they will have an offseason discussion about the possibility of exempting LIV Golf League players directly into next year’s U.S. Open—with the caveat that the organization also wants to see what transpires with the various ongoing negotiations in the men’s professional game.

Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA, which runs the championship, also said that such a potential pathway would be small.

Whan said during a pre-U.S. Open news conference Wednesday that he has already discussed the situation in general terms with John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s chief championships officer.

“We're going to talk about ... whether or not there needs to be a path to somebody that is performing really well on LIV that can get a chance to play in that way,” Whan said at Pinehurst, where the U.S. Open begins Thursday. “I think we are serious about that. Exactly what that looks like and how that'll curtail, I'm not just being coy; we haven't done that yet.

“I also think, if I'm being perfectly honest with you, we've always felt like for the last maybe year and a half that we're always three months away from kind of understanding what the new structure is going to look like. So before we kind of react, what is LIV going to be, what's the PGA Tour. So we always kind of felt like we're just about to know that answer, so let's figure that out.”

Whan was referring to the ongoing talks between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which funds LIV Golf. The PGA of America also expressed desire for an impasse to end to see how the men’s professional game might look and if LIV players are competing again in PGA Tour events or other events around the world.

“Now I think the reason we're being more vocal about and looking at that for next year is maybe this is the new world order, and if that's the case, we wanted to take a look at that,” Whan said.

“I think it's feasible. I don't think it's a huge pathway, but we do offer other pathways through DP or Korn Ferry, so we know that there's an option to get there.”

That is a key point as the DP World Tour exemption he referenced has just three players getting into the field that way and only one comes off the Korn Ferry Tour list.

LIV Golf executives have suggested that in lieu of not getting Official World Golf Ranking points, that the major championships need to give direct access to LIV via its points list or some qualifying method within its tournaments.

Masters chairman Fred Ridley pushed back on that idea earlier this year while PGA CEO Seth Waugh didn’t dismiss it, also noting that the PGA has a robust number of exemptions: it offered seven to LIV golfers this year.

Approached after the news conference, Whan said he’s had discussions with LIV Golf executives but not about direct access to the U.S. Open. The talks, he said, centered more about LIV’s vision for its future.

“We learned like you did that they had pulled their application for OWGR points,” Whan said, referencing LIV’s decision in March to no longer seek accreditation. “We didn’t know we had one from them. They never re-submitted.”

Last October, OWGR chairman Peter Dawson announced that LIV’s application had been rejected, citing mostly its closed tour and lack of relegation, promotion and qualifying. Whan, as USGA CEO, is one of seven members of the OWGR board of directors.

“As we said, some of the issues can be worked out,” Whan said, referencing the often-cited negatives of LIV Golf, such as 54 holes and only 54 players and no cuts.

The U.S. Open field has 12 LIV golfers in the field, down from 13 due to Jon Rahm’s withdrawal due to injury. There were 30 who attempted to go through final qualifying, with three of them—Sergio Garcia, Dean Burmester and David Puig—making the field.

“I think we had 35 players from LIV that were exempted right into final qualifying,” Whan said. “So if they really wanted to be here, they could go play 36 holes and qualify, and some did, to their credit. I think we have 13 (it is 12) now or 14 LIV players in the field, and that's essentially what we've had in '22 and '23.

“There are no out-of-bounds stakes on our field criteria. In other words, this major's probably different than some others, you can get in. It's not a closed field. It doesn't require a committee or an invitation. If you want to play in this field you've got an opportunity to play in this field, and we're proud of that.”


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior writer covering golf for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience on the beat, including 15 at ESPN. Harig 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. Harig, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Fla.