ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The British Open organizer — openly dismissive, frustrated and baffled by the emergence of the Saudi-backed series that has divided golf — issued a warning on Wednesday: One of the most hallowed tournaments the world may soon change entry rules.
A decision by the R&A, the organizer of the Open, could complicate the Bordeaux ambitions of some of the world’s elite players in the future. And if other major tournaments take similar action, as two have already suggested, players could be forced to choose between millions in guaranteed money or the chance to play for their sport’s most expensive honours.
“Professional golfers have the right to choose where they want to play and to accept whatever prize money is offered to them,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said at a press conference in St. Andrews on Wednesday, the day before the start of the Open. on the Old Course. “I have absolutely no problem with that. But there is no free lunch.
Slumbers went on to condemn the new series, LIV Golf, as “not in the sport’s best long-term interest” and “entirely driven by money”. He appeared to rule out a full ban of players who lined up with LIV, including Sergio García, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed, but said Open officials would “review our exemption criteria and qualification” and possibly make changes that could come into effect as early as next year.
The R&A’s resistance was no surprise: Over the weekend, he admitted he hadn’t invited Greg Norman, the general manager of LIV, who won the Open twice, to the festivities. of this year in St. Andrews. However, a change in the criteria that govern the Open’s 156-man field could have significant long-term repercussions for the sport and its hierarchy.
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As do other tournaments, the R&A publishes a long list of ways players can qualify for the Open, which will be held next year at Royal Liverpool. This year, for example, the options included a place in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings on a certain date. John Daly is playing at St. Andrews this week because he won an Open and is 60 or younger, and Aaron Jarvis is on the court as the Latin American amateur champion of the year.
But the R&A has the power to write its own rules.
Without a drastic maneuver to block LIV players from the Open, the R&A is likely to have at least one selection in the tournament for years to come, should the series survive. A change, however, could reduce their numbers and perhaps weigh on younger players who don’t have major championship wins to their name and are choosing between LIV and more traditional paths.
“I never said the best golfers couldn’t play,” Slumbers said. “We will stay totally committed to opening The Open to everyone. But we might just watch how you get into that.
Golf executives in the United States, where the other three majors of the season are played, have also considered whether or how to rework their entry standards.
The PGA of America, which is in charge of the PGA Championship, has signaled its contempt for the LIV series, which has only just begun running 54-hole uncut tournaments with shotgun starts. In June, the chief executive of the United States Golf Association, which controls the US Open, said the group would “re-evaluate” the criteria it uses to roster that tournament.
The Augusta National Golf Club, which administers the invitation-only masters tournament, has so far remained silent about its intentions.
The group that oversees golf’s official world ranking system, which takes into account the results of nearly two dozen tours around the world, could do a lot to settle the debate, or at least move it forward one way or another. other. On Tuesday, he said LIV Golf, which gets much of its funding from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, had this month requested its “inclusion” and was beginning to consider the request. He did not say when he expected this process to end.
Although some of golf’s most prominent figures have quit the PGA Tour, which has come to the attention of the Department of Justice for its efforts to keep its membership intact, at LIV the longtime order has maintained deep support. audience of the best players. Tiger Woods used part of a Tuesday press conference to denounce LIV, and he joined Rory McIlroy, another Open winner, in endorsing the decision to ban Norman from St. Andrews this week.
Norman called the R&A’s decision “small”. When the R&A welcomed Princess Anne to the Old Course on Wednesday, Slumbers said the choice was made “to protect the integrity of the week”.
“We are absolutely determined to make this go down in history as about the 150th Open,” he said. “We decided there would be, based on the noise I was getting from multiple sources, that it was going to be potentially unlikely. We decided we didn’t want a distraction.
Of course, there’s always the possibility of a LIV golfer winning on Sunday.
“I’ll welcome them to the 18th green,” Slumbers said. “It’s a golf tournament. The Open is all about playing the best players in the world, and I want to see who shoots the lowest score on Sunday night.
He did not answer the reporter’s question directly: whether this result would be the stuff of R&A nightmares.