‘I will create my own majors’: LIV Golf exec hints at brazen plan to support LIV players
A looming aspect of the LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour debate all summer long involved not these upstart events taking place in London or Portland or Chicago, but rather the oldest events in the game: the major championships.
Whether pro-LIV or pro-PGA Tour or pro-peace — those are really the three options here — the major championships exist on their own. They are run by different organizations that don’t exactly have a huge stake in the civil war splitting the game. The governing bodies — Augusta National, the PGA of America, the USGA and the R&A — all have relationships with the PGA Tour, but does that require them to act in the best interest of the Tour?
It’s an assertion that has been made in court (by LIV) but only rumored to exist in reality. The USGA did not ban LIV golfers from competing at Brookline this summer, just one week after the first LIV event. And a month after that, the R&A did not ban LIV commits from playing at St. Andrews, either. Now, the waiting game is taking place with players from both sides wondering if LIV golfers might be banned from playing at the Masters in April.
The discussion has simmered recently since the next major championship is still more than five months away. But reported in a feature in The New Yorker this week was a sense of how LIV Golf thinks it could respond if its players are somehow banned in the future.
“For now, the majors are siding with the Tour, and I don’t know why,” Majed Al Sorour, the head of the Saudi Golf Foundation and managing director for LIV Golf, told reporter Zach Helfand. “If the majors decide not to have our players play? I will celebrate. I will create my own majors for my players.”
On the list of LIV Golf and Golf Saudi executives, Al Souror sits high on the flow chart. He has spent the majority of the last decade guiding the Saudi Golf Foundation and much of the last 18 months helping usher LIV into the pro golf ecosystem. If anyone can create an extra LIV event out of nowhere, it’s likely Al Souror. But creating a major championship, as he suggests, isn’t exactly something one man or one brand can accomplish, even with seemingly endless funds. The PGA Tour itself has long promoted the Players Championship as the type of event that could be considered a major championship. Tour veterans and golf media alike have waged the debate for years, and yet there are still only four men’s major championships and that will remain the case.
Back in the real world, it remains unlikely that those major championships will ban LIV golfers at all. The majors have no instituted regulations that players have acted against. And so it would be difficult to explain why a player who is already qualified for an event would disqualify themselves by simply playing their golf on an unconventional (if controversial) tour. That said, it is plausible that the governing bodies would change their qualification standards, either to lean even harder on the Official World Golf Ranking, or to remove the ranking criteria entirely.
R&A chief Martin Slumbers, speaking with the press during the Open Championship, said that the criteria on which players qualify each year is reviewed annually.
“Looking ahead to The Open next year,” Slumbers said, “we have been asked quite frequently about banning players. Let me be very clear. That’s not on our agenda. But what is on our agenda is that we will review our exemptions and qualifications criteria for The Open.
“And whilst we do that every year, we absolutely reserve the right to make changes as our Open Championships Committee deems appropriate. Players have to earn their place in The Open, and that is fundamental to its ethos and its unique global appeal.”
At that press conference in July, at the height of the LIV Golf calendar, Slumbers spoke in generalities. He doesn’t have to make any qualification criteria decisions right now. His major championship is the last one on the calendar. But The Open, the U.S. Open and the Masters all incorporate some form of the Official World Golf Ranking in creating their exemptions.
Players who are ranked in the top 50 at the end of the calendar year have historically earned invites to the Masters if they are not already qualified. That is why players like Abe Ancer and Kevin Na are expected to receive invites from Augusta National in January. As for those players not already qualified for the U.S. Open and Open Championship, staying in the top 60 (U.S. Open) and top 50 (Open Championship) before their respective cut off dates will prove difficult for already unqualified LIV players. Their world rankings are currently descending, and for some at rapid rates. Which reminds us all that any discussion of LIV Golf vs. the PGA Tour is not something that can be explained away quickly. It takes nuance to weave through this maze of organizations and their rules.
The idea that LIV Golf would want to create its own major would come only after LIV golfers fail to qualify or are banned from majors, the latter of which is unlikely and the former of which would happen only after players have been stripped of enough world ranking points…which would happen as a LIV Golf application is currently being considered by the World Golf Ranking…which is an independent entity with seven directors on its board, many of whom are members of the aforementioned governing bodies making the decision.
If that sounds complicated, that’s because it is. A much more straightforward way of qualifying for the U.S. Open and Open Championship? Local and sectional qualifying. Play well enough and you’re in.