In this controversial year of turmoil and exaggeration, preliminary numbers indicate that the global golf space is large enough to participate.
It was on the PGA Tour 12 of the top 50 players in the world rankings competing last week in Las Vegas. LIV Golf was also 12 of the top 50 players in the world playing in Bangkok.
The difference, apart from LIV Golf offering three times the prize money, is that only one of those rings earned credit from the official golf world rankings.
This needs to change. The question is how quickly.
Greg Norman, CEO, commissioner and chief missionary of Saudi-funded LIV Golf, applied in early July to be part of the OWGR system. The process historically takes about a year, which seems slow even by golf standards.
Furthermore, there has never been a tour in history like LIV Golf.
No matter how you attract so many players – seemingly limitless money from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund – look for another “startup” round that started with Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, and Cameron Smith. They’ve combined to win 11 majors in the past decade.
Driving the OWGR would be foolish not to get the LIV Golf into the rating system, and should make it a priority. Just not this year. There is only one event left, this week in Saudi Arabia. And while LIV Golf is not a typical new player in world golf, points are not awarded retroactively. There is no need to start now.
These guys know what they’re going to get when they sign up: money. If they thought the world rankings points would come easily – or even quickly – it would be the same misguided thinking Norman wrote in a February text message to Sergio Garcia that the PGA Tour couldn’t ban players “for a day let alone a life”.
The PGA Tour, initially backed by a federal court, is suspended in its fourth month.
As much as Norman talks about his desire to be a part of the golf ecosystem, LIV Golf is unlike the other rounds OWGR is trying to measure.
LIV Golf has only 48 fields that play 54 holes without cutting and a $120,000 guarantee of finishing last (roughly equivalent to 18th place in Las Vegas). There is an element of the team, and whether this affects a player’s performance when out of competition is irrelevant. No other tour has that.
“We hit every mark in their criteria, so not getting points is kind of crazy,” Bryson DeChambeau said last week. Remarkably, or maybe not, no one has contested his statement because LIV Golf misses more scores than it hits.
The six main rounds that are part of OWGR’s technical committee – which will eventually review the LIV Golf application – feature primarily 72-hole events.
There is room for 54-hole events, but this is usually for developmental tours, such as the Mena Tour, which few people knew existed until last week. Even when the previous OWGR formula was used and these rounds awarded the minimum points (four) to the winner, the minimum was raised quite a bit when it was a 72-hole event.
Why it should be 72 holes is a separate debate, although the British Open has been that way since 1892 and the US Open since 1898. Some might call this precedent.
However, it should be noted that since 1983 – when the PGA Tour was able to hold full records – players with at least a 54-hole share of the win have won 39% of the time. The same percentage applies to majors.
Norman, of all people, wouldn’t be surprised by that.
And so the question becomes: Is it fair to treat LIV Golf the same way OWGR measures all other rounds that often have 72-hole events with cut-offs?
This should take time – maybe not a year, but certainly not overnight.
Norman is doing himself no favors by unwittingly trying to speed up the process by compatibility with MENATour (short for Middle East and North Africa). The Mena Tour entered the OWGR family in 2016 as a development tour with 54-hole events. It is now at the bottom of the ladder that its top players can now access the Asian Development Tour.
Norman gave players an update in August claiming that OWGR is inaccurate without including LIV Golf. He had players sign a letter in September to OWGR saying that in order to maintain trust, points should be awarded retroactively.
And in October, LIV golfers became official members of the Middle East and North Africa Tour. Norman thought they should get the world ranking points right away. OWGR said it would need more than 48 hours of notice.
“When they continue to hold back, they will continue to play a waiting game where we will continue to drop in the standings as our points will not matter at all,” Dechambeau said.
This is correct. There may be at least six LIV Golf players remaining in the top 50 by the end of the year, and the number will shrink when its 14-event schedule begins in 2023. It remains to be determined whether LIV Golf will adjust it by format (possibly by insert cut).
Even so, the new formula is not favorable for smaller fields. The PGA Tour not only has the most big players, but it has depth. LIV Golf players will still be at a disadvantage when they get the world ranking points.
The only thing that will grow at a rapid rate is their bank accounts.
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