LIV Golf hopeful of Open inclusion after ending fight for rankings points

Greg Norman looks on during day two of the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah on March 2, 2024
Greg Norman says the rankings are structured to penalise anyone who has not played regularly on an 'Eligible Tour' - Getty Images/Francois Nel

Greg Norman has pleaded directly to the four majors to change their qualification criteria and afford access to the LIV golfers after the breakaway league withdrew its application for world ranking status.

It is understood that the first response to the LIV Golf lobbying will come from the R&A this week with the announcement of its exemptions for the Open at Royal Troon in the summer.

Telegraph Sport revealed last year that LIV were in talks with the St Andrews governing body and a source at the Saudi-funded circuit on Tuesday said there was “hope” that the Open organisers would “see sense” and make sure that the Ayrshire links “featured the best players in the world”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Norman, the LIV chief executive, sent an email to his players to explain the decision to give up on the traditional route into the biggest tournaments.

“We have made significant efforts to fight for you and ensure your accomplishments are recognised within the existing ranking system,” Norman wrote in the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Telegraph Sport. “Unfortunately, OWGR [Official World Golf Rankings] has shown little willingness to productively work with us.”

Norman went on to call for an “independent ranking system” but indicated that LIV will now dedicate its focus on convincing the bodies that run the Masters, Open, US Open and US PGA to give guaranteed spots through the LIV order of merit.

“We continue to seek meaningful communication and relationships with each of the majors to ensure that LIV golfers are fairly represented and golf fans around the world have opportunities to see the best competition possible,” Norman said.

The irony is that it was actually the majors who voted down LIV’s application last October. The OWGR board is made up of the big four, as well as PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley and DP World Tour chief operating officer Keith Waters, who represents the Federation of International Tours.

But the latter trio recused themselves a few months into the process, following LIV’s submission to be recognised soon after its launch in June 2022. That gave Norman hope, but the majors deemed that the breakaway league was too much of a closed shop and also expressed concern about the team component, which is central to the long-term plan of the Saudi-funded circuit.

“We are not at war with them,” OWGR board chairman Peter Dawson said five months ago. “This decision not to make them eligible is not political. It is entirely technical. LIV players are self-evidently good enough to be ranked. They’re just not playing in a format where they can be ranked equitably with the other 24 tours and thousands of players to compete on them.”

LIV insiders, however, maintain that there has been little direction from OWGR on how to make the bid acceptable. There is also a feeling that they have been “slow-played”, a point Norman intimated in his message to the 54 players.

“Even if LIV Golf events were immediately awarded points, the OWGR system is designed such that it would be functionally impossible for you to regain positions close to the summit of the ranking, where so many of you belong,” he said.

“The rankings are structured to penalise anyone who has not played regularly on an ‘Eligible Tour’ with the field ratings disproportionately rewarding play on the PGA Tour. This is illustrated by the fact only four players inside the top 50 are not PGA Tour players (Jon Rahm [3], Tyrrell Hatton [17], Brooks Koepka [30] and Cam Smith [45]) and by the precipitous decline of LIV players generally, notwithstanding extraordinary performances in LIV events.”

‘The best players aren’t all playing PGA Tour tournaments’

Recently, Augusta did invite Joaquin Niemann, the 25-year-old from Chile who has won two of the last three LIV events, to next month’s major, but the Masters only mentioned his performance in winning the Australian Open in December. None of the majors has so far awarded berths on the basis of LIV performances.

Inevitably, this snub has attracted criticism from within LIV. Last week, Talor Gooch, the American who won last year’s LIV order of merit but who is not yet qualified or been invited to any of this year’s majors, declared that if Rory McIlroy won the Masters and so completed the career grand slam, his historic achievement would come with “an asterisk”.

Those comments have been widely ridiculed, but Paul Azinger, the 2008 Ryder Cup captain does believe that LIV has severely weakened the quality of competition on the PGA Tour.

“The best players aren’t all playing PGA Tour tournaments,” he told Golfweek. “That’s over. Suddenly, the LIV Tour, let’s just say it like this: the PGA Tour has fast become the qualifier for LIV and it’s a sad day for golf.”

Azinger was the lead analyst for NBC until last November and despite negotiations breaking down with the US network over a new contract, he insists he is “happy” his role has ended.

“I’d rather call [commentate on] the Senior Tour than the PGA Tour to tell you the truth,” Azinger said. “To call the best senior players in the world – well, at least they’re the best.”

While LIV plays its fourth $25 million event of the season in Hong Kong this week, the latest $20 million “signature event” on the PGA Tour takes place in Orlando, with McIlroy and Co competing for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

In the background, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour continue to talk with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, with a view to unifying the elite professional male game.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.