There’s no doubting that this is an important week for LIV Golf, but the most important development for the upstarts might have happened some 4,200 miles away from the proceedings at LIV Miami.
On Saturday morning, the golf establishment delivered the Saudi-backed league the clearest sign yet that they will not, in fact, be banned from all of the major championships in 2023 — a development that could have the power to alter the league’s long-term prospects.
The news came via a Golf Digest interview with Martin Slumbers, the CEO of the R&A — the governing body responsible for organizing the Open Championship. Over the course of a lengthy interview with John Huggan, Slumbers indicated his organization would soon release its guidance on LIV’s eligibility for the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool, and that guidance would likely leave a pathway open for LIV players to compete.
“We’ll go public in January/February with what we are going to do with regard to LIV golfers,” Slumbers said. “But if you want a guide, go back to what I said in July. We’re not banning anyone. We are not going to betray 150 years of history and have the Open not be open. The name says it all. And that’s important.”
Slumbers, who has not shied away from his own harsh criticism of the new league, stopped short of indicating LIV players would earn automatic exemptions into the event, as pros on the PGA and DP World Tours do annually. At the heart of that debate lies LIV’s inclusion (or lack thereof) in the Official World Golf Ranking, the system that controls automatic eligibility into golf’s biggest events. Rather, as others have suggested, LIV’s players may be left to participate in Open qualifiers around the world in order to earn their spot in the field.
“What we will do is ensure that there are appropriate pathways and ways to qualify,” Slumbers said. “I’m looking forward to seeing Cam Smith tee up around 9:40 a.m. on the first day of the Open next year. The Open needs to set itself aside from what’s going on in terms of disagreements and make sure we stay true to our principle, which is to have the best players in the world competing.”
We’re not banning anyone.
For LIV, Slumbers’ comments mark a significant victory at a key moment. For months, the league’s long-term viability has appeared inextricably tied to its ability to send players to the major championships. In setting the precedent that LIV players will be allowed to compete, Slumbers is likely opening the door for them to compete in both of golf’s major “opens” (the U.S. and Open Championship). That leaves just the PGA Championship and, of course, the Masters — two bodies that have not tipped their hand in either direction on the upstarts.
This week marks the end of LIV’s “beta test” inaugural season, with a preposterous $50 million up for grabs in Miami’s season-finisher. The league still faces several key questions at the end of year one, many surrounding its ability to form a viable business model. Still, earning entrance into the majors would go a long way for LIV in convincing potential business partners — and perhaps most importantly, its financiers at the Saudi Public Investment Fund — to invest further.
The 151st Open Championship is scheduled for July 16-23, 2023 at Royal Liverpool.