DORAL, Fla. — Phil Mickelson has a simple solution for the issue of majors relying on the Official World Golf Rankings to determine their fields: Don’t stop there.
“The majors need to protect their product, and there's probably other ways that they can do that by creating slots,” Mickelson said Wednesday morning prior to LIV’s season-ending tournament. “If they want to make sure they have the best fields in golf, they could create vehicles for players on LIV to play in majors where they don't have to use the OWGR.”
LIV’s lack of a direct pathway to the majors is a significant obstacle to the breakaway tour’s future growth. LIV players motivated by more than just the massive paychecks have, at the moment, no options to play in majors outside of existing exemptions (for past winners and strong recent performances in majors), arduous qualifying tournaments, or a patchwork route of scratching together ranking points on smaller world tours.
Qualifying criteria for each of the four majors differ slightly, but in general, players currently must be among the most highly ranked in the world, according to the OWGR, to earn entry. When every top player in the world played on the same OWGR-approved tours, the fields were by definition the best in golf.
Because there were no elite players competing on unsanctioned tours, there was no need to expand the qualification criteria beyond OWGR. But the majors can and do change their entry criteria virtually every single year to ensure the field they want is the field they get.
Players like Mickelson knew there was the risk that they would be forfeiting a chance at OWGR points by jumping to LIV, and many — particularly those who would be further down in the rankings regardless — have accepted that tradeoff. But now that players like Dustin Johnson (2020 Masters champion), Bryson DeChambeau (2020 U.S. Open champion), Mickelson (2021 PGA champion), Cam Smith (2022 Open champion) and Brooks Koepka (2023 PGA champion) have jumped to LIV, it’s factually impossible to argue that any field that excludes LIV players is “the best in golf.”
Augusta National Golf Club and the USGA declined comment to Yahoo Sports on Mickelson's suggestion. The R&A and the PGA of America have not yet responded to inquiries.
Last week, the OWGR denied LIV’s request to receive points for its tournaments. The organizing board cited LIV’s 54-hole, no-cut format, and the lack of a clear pathway for promotion or relegation in the league, as reasons for the denial of points.
Mickelson disputed that characterization on Wednesday without offering specifics. “I do want to bring to light as to why exactly they are doing what they are doing,” he said of the OWGR. “It's not what they are putting out there on the front page. There's a lot more going on behind the scenes.” He later suggested that an OWGR decision in favor of LIV would “undermine the TV contract and revenue of the PGA Tour if they gave points to LIV.”
The lack of points for LIV events has tanked the rankings of every LIV player. Smith has fallen from a high of 2nd to 18th. Koepka, despite winning the PGA and finishing T2 in the Masters this year, ranks 17th. Bryson DeChambeau, who won two LIV events this season, is ranked 137th.
LIV’s goal isn’t just to protect the few elite-level players in its ranks, but to make itself more enticing for current high-level PGA Tour players, as well as future major winners now in college or high school.
“I've been fielding calls,” Mickelson said, “as we all have, from players that are free agents to PGA Tour players to DP World Tour players that want to come over.”
If that’s correct — and given that tensions have cooled between the two tours, and PGA Tour players have sported LIV gear, it’s certainly possible — the push to get LIV players into majors will only increase.