LIV & OWGR: Q&A on rejection and major futures

LIV & OWGR: Q&A on rejection and major futures

ORLANDO, Fla. – LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman informed players via a memo early Tuesday that the breakaway league had withdrawn its bid to award world-ranking points.

The league’s request for accreditation, which was filed in July 2022, was denied by the Official World Golf Ranking last October and Norman’s memo says, “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.”

The world rankings were always going to be an uphill battle for LIV Golf and, at this point, whether that was because of politics or policy doesn’t matter. There are plenty of questions and the answers aren’t always easy to come by. But here we go:

Why was LIV Golf’s request for world-ranking points denied?

LIV Golf’s bid was riddled with issues, including its format (54 holes), field size (54 players including wild-cards) and no cuts, but according to Peter Dawson, the OWGR chairman, those issues could have been dealt with via mathematical formula.

The primary reasons Dawson and the OWGR denied LIV Golf’s request were a lack of promotion and relegation as well as the league’s team competition.

“They’re just not playing in a format where they can be ranked equitably with the other 24 tours and thousands of players trying to compete on them,” Dawson told the Associated Press in October.

That leads to this …

How accurate are LIV’s statements regarding the OWGR?

In his memo to players, Norman said the circuit has “made enormous efforts to fight for you and to ensure your accomplishments are recognized within the existing ranking system. Unfortunately, the OWGR has shown little willingness to productively work with us.”

It's not clear how collaborative the OWGR has been during this process, but Dawson has laid out the issues with LIV Golf’s relative lack of turnover and the team element rather clearly.

LIV Golf introduced a promotions event for three players to earn spots in the league and the top player from the previous season’s Asian International Series is given status. Four players were also dropped from the previous LIV season to make way for the new ones.

That’s less than a 10% turnover rate when, as the Associated Press noted, most tours have an annual turnover rate between 20-25%.

LIV’s numbers weren’t enough to meet the OWGR’s standard for “promotion and relegation.” There were also concerns about the team element, despite LIV Golf’s claims that player regulations require playing by the Rules of Golf, which do not allow for giving advice in an individual competition.

Where the waters become muddy is in the OWGR’s own guidelines for accreditation which do not require a prospective tour to meet all its criteria and leave the decision to the subjectivity of the ranking’s board, which includes representatives from each of the major championships.

Without world-ranking points for LIV Golf events, how does the league assure its players have access to major championships?

Several of LIV’s biggest names are exempt for upcoming majors based on past performances in the biggest events.

For those who are not, at least in the short-term, they can look to Joaquin Niemann for the path forward: play where else you are eligible (and play well).

The two-time winner this season on LIV Golf secured his spot at the Open Championship with his victory in December at the Australian Open, which also afforded him DP World Tour membership in 2024. The Chilean expanded his schedule to include events that did offer world-ranking points, including the Hero Dubai Desert Classic in January, where he tied for fourth, and the Australian PGA Championship in November, where he was fifth.

Niemann was given special invitations into both the Masters and the PGA Championship, and his play – whether it was based off his performances around the globe or on LIV – proves there is at least an opening for major access.

And let it not be forgotten: the U.S. Open and The Open have qualifying.

Does the Official World Golf Ranking need to be updated?

If the world ranking is broken, as Norman contends, it’s a symptom of a larger sickness across professional golf and a cure doesn’t feel imminent.

Negotiations between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund are still “ongoing” and without some sort of merger, the issue of assuring top players access to the majors will only intensify (the OWGR battle was always about major entry).

In the short-term, that will fall to each major to carve out exemptions and invitations for players they feel are falling through the cracks. But long-term, some are calling for a world-ranking makeover.

“I think that there's been so much uncertainty and change in the last couple years that it's inevitable that things need to be updated or things need to be changed,” current world No. 6 Patrick Cantlay said. “I don't know if we've worked through all the changes necessary, compared to all the changes that have happened in the last couple years.”

Are there other ranking systems in place that work better than the OWGR?

Any ranking is, by nature, subjective and there are other options to evaluate tournaments across the globe including Data Golf, which includes LIV Golf events in its ranking.

The Data Golf ranking provides a compelling contrast to the OWGR, with Niemann being a perfect example at 12th in the alternate ranking compared to 76th in the OWGR.

Bryson DeChambeau (22nd in Data Golf compared to 182nd in OWGR), Talor Gooch (33rd to 476th) and Dustin Johnson (34th to 266th) give a glimpse into how an alternative ranking could help solve the current problem, but Data Golf has its own curiosities.

Data Golf also includes play on the PGA Tour Champions which means Steve Stricker, who hasn’t played in an individual event on the PGA Tour since 2021, is ranked 78th. Brooks Koepka is ranked lower on Data Golf (No. 39) than in the OWGR (No. 30) and Rickie Fowler plummets to 91st on Data Golf’s list compared to 32nd on the OWGR.

There are other options, including the Golfweek/Sagarin men’s professional rankings, but they all come with the inherent subjectivity that Norman has railed against for two years.

Do any individuals get OWGR points from team events (on other tours)?

In many ways this was the ultimate walk-off for those who have pushed back on LIV Golf being granted world-ranking points. In 2017, the PGA Tour converted the Zurich Classic in New Orleans to a two-man team event with a format that included foursomes and fourball play and the event stopped receiving world-ranking points.

The comparison is not entirely appropriate given that it would be impossible to measure independent performances during foursomes (alternate-shot) play, but even the suggestion at the time that the Tour could use four rounds of fourball play was not embraced by the OWGR.

The OWGR does state on its website that, “where a tournament includes a team element, only the individual element of the tournament will be eligible for inclusion in the OWGR system.”

As Dawson said in October when the OWGR officially denied the league ranking points, “I hope that LIV can find a solution — not so much their format; that can be dealt with through a mathematical formula — but the qualification and relegation.”

Five months later, such hope is lost.