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British Open Expands Qualifying Opportunities, Which Could Benefit LIV Golf

ORLANDO, Fla. – The head of the R&A said Wednesday that the organization considered giving spots in the British Open field this summer to LIV Golf players but ultimately decided on wider qualifying opportunities around the world.

Martin Slumbers, the CEO of the R&A who is leaving his position at the end of this year, in a brief interview after playing in the pro-am at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, lauded players such as Joaquin Niemann and Dean Burmester who won Open Qualifying Series events last year.

“Quite a few of the guys went and traveled and I would look at how many of them did that,” Slumbers said. “We decided to create those opportunities. And I’d add there are a minimum of 16 players in final qualifying (two weeks prior to the Open). We felt that is the next best step of progression on this road.

“We don’t want to take sides. We let the tours sort themselves out. But I think we gave every single player in LIV an opportunity to get into the Open.”

The Open on Wednesday announced its exemption criteria for this year’s tournament at Royal Troon and among the changes is a new exemption category that will allow for five players who compete on the Asian Tour, the Japan Golf Tour, the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Sunshine Tour to qualify through the International Federation list.

Last year, the PGA of America used that list for the first time and invited three players, one of whom was then-LIV competitor Sihwan Kim. At the moment, former U.S. Amateur champion and current LIV player Andy Ogletree is in line to get in the PGA and the Open due to winning the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit.

“There was a change to OWGR methodology two years ago and there was a concern that we wanted to make sure that there was a separation of the rankings for the non-main tours,” Slumbers said. “That’s why we created the federated list. The top four come from the Order of Merit winners. There’s five spots in there. A few years ago we took the Asian Tour exemption away but that effectively comes back in now. So we’ve created other opportunities.”

In his role at the R&A, Slumbers is a member of the seven-member board that comprises the Official World Golf Ranking. That system of ranking players has come under considerable scrutiny over the past two years as LIV Golf first sought accreditation in 2022, was denied last fall, and ultimately this week decided to pull its application.

Slumbers declined to comment specifically on LIV Golf’s decision to remove its application, referring to the statement about its rejection last year.

Because the LIV Golf League does not get OWGR points, several high-profile players have seen their ranking tank. Talor Gooch, who won three times on the LIV Golf League last year, is outside the top 400 in the world despite playing in three majors last year. He’s been outspoken about changes being necessary, as have other LIV players along with commissioner Greg Norman.

Jon Rahm, who went to LIV Golf this year, was critical of the OWGR prior to joining LIV and reiterated that Wednesday during a news conference in Hong Kong, where the league plays this week.

“I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know they were still trying to get World Ranking points,” he said. “But the one thing I can say is I’m going to back to what I said two years ago in the DP World Tour Championship. I didn’t think it was a good system back then, and if anything, the more time that goes on, the more it proves to be wrong.

“If anybody in this world, for example, doesn’t think Joaco (Niemann) deserves to be in the top 10 or doesn’t know that he’s a top player in the world, I don’t know what game you’re watching. We can tell. I think anybody who watches golf can tell who the best players in the world are, and obviously I don’t think the ranking is reflective of that right now to its entirety.”

And several players on the PGA Tour have questioned the system in light of the lack of LIV Golf presence. Only four players in the top 50 are not members of the PGA Tour and all are with LIV Golf, three of whom have won major championships in the past two years.

“Rankings are rankings, they’re not objective truth,” said Viktor Hovland, the reigning FedEx Cup champion. “They’re created to try to rank people the best they can. Obviously, now when you have a huge chunk of really, really good players that are not getting any ranking points, it definitely devalues the ranking.”

“You see what Joaquin’s done this year, and he’s (76th) in the world,” said Will Zalatoris. “The guy’s played some really good golf … having to get a special exemption from Augusta, you know, it’s just, there’s some really good players, and there’s some guys that have gone around the world and played really good golf and I think that’s something that, once we get to the majors, it will be really fun to have us all back together. But, I know that that’s kind of the utopian goal for all of us right now is to have the best players in the world play week in, week out.”

Slumbers said that the R&A considered direct LIV exemptions “but we felt this was the best route for this year.”

Source: The Tribune