BROOKLINE, Mass. – Since last week, when multiple top golfers exposed a schism in the men’s professional game by joining the upstart, Saudi-backed LIV golf circuit, the sport has been waiting for its power brokers to weigh in.
The biggest prizes in golf, events that shape legacies, generate top sponsorship dollars and are marked on every player’s calendar, are the major championships: the Masters Tournament, the US Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. But none of those four events are governed by a professional tour, be it old or new. They are overseas by four distinct entities sometimes described as golfing families (insert organized crime joke here).
These organizations are now on the battlefield for the future of men’s pro golf. When the PGA Tour retaliated last week by suspending 17 players who had aligned with LIV Golf, the looming question was whether the major championships’ chieftains from Augusta National Golf Club (the Masters), the United States Golf Association (the US Open), the R&A (the British Open) and the PGA of America (the PGA Championship) would choose a side. Since they have all been long known in the United States and Europe, would they snub the alternative LIV Golf Invitational Series and exclude its players from their events?
On Wednesday, there was a partial answer and it could not be comforted by renowned players like Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, who insisted they could still play the major tournaments while accepting hundreds of dollars being dropped by LIV Golf. , whose major shareholder is the Private Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.
While all LIV golf-affiliated players who were already qualified for this week’s US Open at the Country Club outside Boston have been welcomed, Mike Whan, the USGA’s chief executive, said on Wednesday that his organization would consider ways that could make it more difficult for LIV Golf players compete in the event in the future.
Whan was asked if he could see a situation in which LIV golf players would find it “harder and harder” to get into the US Open.
“Yes,” he replied.
Asked to elaborate, Whan said: “Could I foresee a day? Yeah, I could foresee a day. “
Whan cautioned that the USGA would not act rashly but would unquestionably “re-evaluate” its qualifying criteria.
“The question was, could you envision a day where it would be harder for some people to do different things in a US Open?” he said. “I could.”
There were other statements from Whan that didn’t sound like endorsements of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, which held its inaugural tournament last weekend outside London and still lacks the support of the majority, and rank-and-file, PGA Tour players. But the breakaway circuit has surprisingly lured some leading players, most of whom professed their loyalty to the United States-based PGA Tour just weeks, or days, earlier.
“I’m saddened by what’s happening in the professional game,” Whan said. He continued: “I heard that this is good for the game. At least from my outside view right now, it looks like it’s good for a few people playing the game, but I’m struggling with how this is good for the game. “
Whan, who was the longtime commissioner of the LPGA until he took over the USGA last summer, also emphasized that it was essential for each of golf’s leaders to work cohesively when assessing what role LIV Golf would play.
“We have to see what happens – if this is an exhibition or tour?” he said. “I’ve said this many times, I’ve seen a lot of things get started in the game, maybe nothing with this amount of noise or this amount of funding behind it, but I’ve also seen a lot of those things. with be us a couple years later.
“One event doesn’t change the way I think about the future of the sport.”
And significantly, when Whan was asked if suspensions were imposed by the PGA Tour would get his attention when the USGA was reassessing its criteria for future US Opens, Whan swiftly replied: “They already did. It got our attention for this championship. “
Whan’s comments come a month after Seth Waugh, the chief executive of the PGA of America, firmly behind the PGA Tour, calling it a part of what he referred to as golf’s ecosystem.
“Our bylaws do say that you have to be a recognized member of a recognized tour in order to be a PGA member somewhere, and therefore not eligible to play,” said Waugh, speaking of the PGA Championship.
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
A new series. The new Saudi-financed, controversy-trailed LIV Golf Series held its first event in June. But what is it? Who is playing it? What ‘s all the hubbub, and how can you watch it? Here’s what to know:
Addressing the LIV Golf tour, Waugh said: “I don’t know if it’s a league, it’s not a league at this point – but the league structure is almost flawed.”
So where does that leave the other two major championships and their response to the LIV Golf Tour, which will play five events in the United States earlier this year on June 30 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, outside Portland, Ore.
As with the US Open this week, the leaders of the British Open may find it difficult to bar players who are already qualified for this year’s event, which begins July 14 in St. Louis. Andrews, Scotland, and would include Mickelson and Johnson. That means the next, and potentially first, major championship forced to wade into the PGA Tour-LIV Golf Conference.
In April, Augusta National’s chairman, Fred Ridley, was asked if players joining a rival tour to the PGA Tour would be invited to play in the Masters. Ridley said: “Our mission is to always act in the best interest of the game in whatever form it takes. I think golf’s in a good place right now. “
Over the years, Augusta National has honored exceedingly traditional values and has been reluctant to change. And Ridley no doubt heard what Whan had to say Wednesday, if the two haven’t already discussed the issue on the telephone.
On the eve of the 122nd US Open, will Whan’s statements slow the exodus players from the PGA Tour, especially after the British Open has been played?
It ‘s hard to say. It will be especially attractive for the demographic that has been the most receptive to LIV Golf’s monetary enticements: aging players past their primes.
But if there was a message in Whan’s response to the 13 questions he faced on Wednesday about LIV Golf’s introduction, or intrusion, to his sport, he would not view it as business as usual. He could have been noncommittal about the new tour and bided his time. Importantly, he suggested that it wasn’t good for golf.
That was a telling observation from one of the most powerful bosses of golf’s major championship families.