LIV Golf, not the 150th Open Championship, dominates R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers’ press conference

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – In his meeting with the media Wednesday at the 150th Open Championship at the home of golf, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers knew what was coming, and in brief but at times stern remarks addressed a topic that has caused disruption in men’s professional golf.

That would be LIV Golf, the burgeoning rival league led by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia that has lured some of the game’s biggest names away from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau.

His remarks, while noteworthy, did nothing to stem the onslaught of questions.

Try as he might, Slumbers could not make the celebration of the 150th Open Championship on the Old Course at the Home of Golf the main talking point.

But he was unwavering in his remarks and answers dealing with LIV Golf.

“Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them. I have absolutely no issue with that at all. But there is no such thing as a free lunch,” Slumbers said. “I believe the model we’ve seen at (London’s) Centurion and (Oregon’s) Pumpkin Ridge (the first two tournaments of LIV Golf) is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money. We believe it undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special.

“I would also like to say that, in my opinion, the continued commentary that this is about growing the game is just not credible and if anything, is harming the perception of our sport which we are working so hard to improve.”

When Slumbers was done with his remarks, 16 of the 24 questions had LIV Golf at their heart. One concerned Norman, who was asked not to come for Monday’s Celebration of Champions exhibition and Tuesday’s Champions’ Dinner

“We are absolutely determined to ensure that this goes down in history as about the 150th Open,” Slumbers said. “We decided that there would be, based on noise that I was receiving from multiple sources, that with (Norman’s attendance), that was going to be potentially unlikely.

“We decided that we didn’t want the distraction. We wanted to ensure that the conversation was all about this week and playing golf and balls in the air tomorrow and the Champion Golfer on Sunday.”

Many of the questions concerned the R&A’s potential adjustments to the qualifying and exemption regulations for the oldest championship in golf. This year, those players with LIV Golf were allowed to play.

“We have been asked quite frequently about banning players. Let me be very clear. That’s not on our agenda,” Slumbers said. “But what is on our agenda is that we will review our exemptions and qualifications criteria for the Open. And whilst we do that every year, we absolutely reserve the right to make changes as our Open Championships Committee deems appropriate.

“Players have to earn their place in The Open, and that is fundamental to its ethos and its unique global appeal. We will hold totally true to the Open being open to anybody. But we may well look at how you get into that, whether it’s an exemption or a need to qualify through our qualifying process.

“With that, I’d like to get back to what we are all here for, The 150th Open.”

That proved futile.

The next question dealt with Slumbers’ being on the Board of Directors of the Official World Golf Rankings Association. The OWGR will determine whether LIV Golf will receive world rankings points, which would help some players qualify for the major championships. Slumber said the question needed to be addressed to the chairman of the OWGR.

The next question dealt with the 150th Open.