Yes, LIV players are eligible for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. But will any get picked?
Though Brooks Koepka failed to capitalize on his 54-hole lead at the 2023 Masters, it was still a statement week for him. Yes, he had won a week earlier at the LIV event in Orlando, but Orange County National ain’t the National. When Koepka headed north for Georgia, questions still swirled around whether he — and the rest of his LIV brethren for that matter — were sharp enough to compete against a fully loaded field over 72 holes. By Sunday evening, the doubters had been silenced. Koepka tied for second with his LIV stablemate, Phil Mickelson, with a third LIV player, Patrick Reed, just a stroke behind them in a tie for fourth. At the first major of 2023, LIV had showed out.
You can be sure Zach Johnson was watching, because these days it’s Johnson’s job to watch…and observe…and assess. Johnson is captaining the 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup team, and in just a few short months he will handpick half the players who will comprise the 12-man squad bound for Rome in September.
This week, Johnson is not only watching but he’s also playing — in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. His partner in the two-man team event is Steve Stricker, another guy who knows a little something about assessing talent. Two years ago, Stricker assembled the U.S. Ryder Cup team that dismantled the Europeans, 19-9, at Whistling Straits.
On Wednesday, Johnson was asked whether he would consider putting LIV players on his team.
“No decisions have been made,” he said. “There’s still a lot of time left in that regard, and so many fluid factors involved.”
One of those factors is whether LIV players, who have been suspended by the PGA Tour, will even be eligible for captain’s picks. (LIV players’ only means of collecting Ryder Cup qualification points is at the four majors, which will make it exceedingly difficult for any of them to land a spot on the team via that avenue; Koepka and Mickelson’s runner-up Masters finishes moved them into a still-distant 17th and 22nd, respectively, on the points list.)
Regarding eligibility, Johnson said: “Not to get overly in the weeds of all this, but in order to garner Ryder Cup points or be eligible for PGA of America Ryder Cup points and PGA Championship points, you have to be a member of PGA of America. Those individuals that have left the PGA Tour, to my knowledge, are still members of PGA of America. There’s a grace period involved there. I don’t know the specifics.”
Alas, those grace-period specifics seem important! When asked for further explanation on Thursday, a PGA of America spokesperson replied to GOLF.com with this statement:
“PGA of America membership is a requirement to be eligible to participate on the U.S. Ryder Cup Team. Under the PGA of America membership rules there are classifications that currently allow LIV Tour members to retain their PGA of America membership status. PGA TOUR members are considered A3 classification. Because the LIV players paid their membership dues before June 30, 2022, they will retain their membership through the end of June 2023 and then through a grace period that runs through the end of June 2024. After that, under our current rules, they may apply for PGA’s Reserve Member classification. A3 members who resigned or are no longer PGA TOUR Members (suspended) are still PGA of America members.”
So, in short, yes, LIV players will be available for Capt. Johnson. Whether he picks any of them, though, will be one of the more intriguing subplots in the run-up to Rome.
If Johnson’s “no decisions have been made” response sounds like something you might hear from a hedging politician, that’s because he is indeed in a political quagmire. Johnson can’t come out with a full-throated endorsement of LIV players’ impressive form, lest he irritate his Ponte Vedra pals, but he also can’t dismiss LIV’s biggest talents, because, well, they’re talented, and Johnson’s duty is to construct the best, most cohesive team possible.
Further adding to his conundrum is that, if the kumbaya vibe of Masters Week was any indication, there doesn’t appear to be any deep-seeded (or at least insurmountable) animosity between the leading PGA Tour loyalists and their LIV counterparts, and any lingering bitterness that does exist might well further dissipate over time. This could mean that by the time we get to late summer, if, say, Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth think it’s a good idea to bolster the U.S. squad with the likes of Brooks or DJ, their captain likely will be inclined to take that endorsement on board.
On Wednesday, Johnson (Zach, not Dustin) said as much in terms of how he’ll approach the selection process.
“I’m going to rely heavily on the guys that actually make the team because it’s their team,” he said. “So I don’t know who those six are going to be, obviously, but their ownership and their opinions will weigh heavily into what I, what we, decide to do.”