LIV’s major future might depend upon a bold new strategy

phil mickelson and brooks koepka stand next to one another at LIV miami.

LIV Golf's second season concluded on Sunday in Miami.

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It was early 2022 when then-LIV Golf CEO Majed Al-Sorour fired a broadside at golf’s major championships.

“If the majors decide not to have our players play? I will celebrate. I will create my own majors for my players,” he told the New Yorker’s Zach Helfand. “Honestly, I think all the tours are being run by guys who don’t understand business.”

Al-Sorour would later argue his comments were taken out of context, but it was no use, his words landed on the golf world like a hand grenade. To that point, LIV had shown an at-best passing interest in the art of diplomacy, favoring instead the slightly easier strategy of burning the sport’s institutions to the ground. As golf’s first new tour in decades, disruption was their playbook — a performance art that didn’t leave much room for collaboration with golf’s existing establishments.

Until about a week ago.

That was when the news arrived from the Official World Golf Ranking: LIV’s application for inclusion had been denied. While the Ranking’s decision wasn’t necessarily a surprise — it had been threatening to deny LIV for its refusal to meet OWGR guidelines for months — it landed with a thud at LIV headquarters. The league knew that the OWGR represented the best opportunity for long-term inclusion in the major championships. Without its inclusion in the system, and the valuable rankings points that allow players to qualify for golf’s major championships, LIV’s players would be left dangling in the golf abyss without major eligibility.

Which brings us to Miami. Over the weekend, as LIV played the final tournament of its second season, multiple reports swirled indicating the league had begun conversations with golf’s governing bodies about exemptions into their respective major championships. (Each of golf’s major championships is run by a different governing body; Augusta National for the Masters, the PGA of America for the PGA Championship, the USGA for the U.S. Open, and the R&A for the Open Championship.)

Yes, the news marked an inevitability for the upstarts, who were left without any alternative options for major championship eligibility. But it also represented a considerable change of approach, a new strategy that LIV’s entire major championship future could depend upon: diplomacy.

No, LIV has not been one for kinship with the governing bodies for much of its existence, but according to a Telegraph report connecting the league with the R&A, that’s is the approach the league has taken in the wake of the OWGR news. According to the report, LIV asked the R&A for 12 exemptions into the next Open Championship, reportedly offering its considerable Saudi war chest as leverage to help the R&A advance its own sustainability and sport-growing initiatives.

It’s not exactly clear what form these negotiations have taken, or if the offer has been as simple as cash-for-exemptions. But it is not hard to see how LIV could employ a similar strategy with both the PGA of America and USGA, both of whom could use the cash infusion to support the sport’s interests. The Opens (British and U.S.) would represent notably fertile ground for LIV’s efforts, considering both championships have made no effort to restrict LIV players from their fields since the advent of the league.

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Of course, there’s room to doubt the governing bodies would consider taking the money, especially given their standoffish approach toward LIV and its Saudi financiers over the last two years. And it’s not clear if such an agreement would even be possible under the current field structure of the majors. But there was room to doubt the same of the PGA Tour until June 6, when Jay Monahan announced an earth-shattering framework agreement with LIV’s financiers, the Saudi PIF. The short of that situation is the same as this one: it’s easy to sound high-and-mighty until you’re staring at a very big check.

It is slightly easier to understand the upshot for the upstarts. There’s little doubt that LIV’s future is inextricably tied to its ability to offer major championship eligibility to its players, and an agreement with the governing bodies would allow the league to have that without compromising on the values — smaller fields, shorter tournaments, no qualifying structure — that led to its rejected OWGR application.

The Telegraph places the negotiations in the “early” stages, but the mere announcement of discussions represents a significant development for the league. Irrespective of a possible definitive agreement with the PGA Tour, it seems LIV is open for business with golf’s governing bodies.

There will be no “new majors” for LIV players, but there may be majors after all. As LIV seems to be learning, sometimes it’s best to govern with a carrot, not a stick.

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