R&A CEO on LIV Golf members and the Open: ‘We’re not banning anyone. We are not going to betray 150 years of history and have the Open not be open’

The 151st Open Championship is in 264 days. We’re a long way from the opening tee shot at Royal Liverpool, a venue last visited in 2014 where now world No. 1 Rory McIlroy captured his Claret Jug.

However, we won’t have to wait that long to hear the R&A’s plans for LIV Golf members.

Back in July, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said they had no plans to ban LIV players saying: “Let me be very clear. That’s not on our agenda.”

Fast forward three months and his message remains the same.

“We’ll go public in January/February with what we are going to do with regard to LIV golfers. 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,” Slumbers told Golf Digest this week at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship hosted by the R&A, the Asia-Pacific Golf Federation and the Masters.

“What we will do is ensure that there are appropriate pathways and ways to qualify. 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 in terms of disagreements and make sure we stay true to our principle, which is to have the best players in the world competing.”

2022 Open Championship
2022 Open Championship

Martin Slumbers, the CEO of The R&A and Secretary of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, speaks to the media during his pre-tournament news conference ahead of the 150th Open at St Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland. (Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images)

Smith, the current Champion Golfer of the Year, is now a member of the Greg Norman-led circuit backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.

At St. Andrews earlier this year, Norman was excluded from the Champions Challenge and Champions dinner.

“With everything that was going on, it was clear to me that there was a reason why he wanted to be there this year,” Slumbers said. “If he had been there, it would have been about noise. The Open has to be distinct from all that. I didn’t want to have noise between two rival tours and two big personalities. It would have overshadowed what was happening that week.

“I wanted the 150th Open to be special and perfect. I didn’t want other issues going on around it, ones that would have undermined it in the eyes of the public. I was very polite and very deferential to Greg. I asked him to understand my perspective. And I did so privately. I did not make it public. I never said anything and never commented on it.

“That week was supposed to be about the first event in our game’s history reaching its 150th playing. On arguably the greatest course in the world. I was never going to lose focus on that.”

In regards to our fractured game, Slumbers understands the consequences of splitting the talent pool.

“To me, this is not about ‘them and us.’ I have no issue with the players. People play for a living. I note that Saudi Arabia wants to invest a lot of money in the game I love and care about,” he said. “That’s a good thing. But I want to preserve the pathways and meritocracy on which our game is built. Sport without that isn’t sport. So I want to make sure we have the best players competing week in and week out.

“If the game is not played with high value and respect, I have no chance to grow the game. Maybe the consequence of where we are is that we only get to see all of the very best players together four times a year. So we’ll enjoy it four times a year.”

Looking ahead to 2023, just to make you feel a bit better about how far we are from meaningful golf, the Masters begins in 158 days.

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2022 U.S. Open
2022 U.S. Open

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek