LIV considering adding a cut to tournaments to help world rankings bid

LIV Golf players will not yet receive Official World Golf Rankings points, despite a “strategic alliance” with the MENA Tour intended to secure them.

The Saudi-backed LIV Golf series has been battling with the authorities in a bid to get its events recognised since its launch but, despite all of LIV’s players writing to Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) chairman Peter Dawson urging him to grant their status, they had seemingly made no progress with the 48-man, invitational, no cut events not meeting the criteria for World Ranking points.

RELATED: LIV players to play in their own Majors?

However, in a stunning move ahead of its Bangkok event, LIV Golf and its CEO Greg Norman announced an alliance with the MENA Tour, with the aim of securing world ranking status.

The MENA Tour – a Dubai-based golf tour that has offered world ranking points since 2016 – said the “strategic alliance” with LIV Golf would see all its events added to their schedule and all members of the Saudi-backed circuit joining their tour.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman has been battling for the series to receive world ranking points since it launched.

“We are taking this mutually beneficial action to support the game at the developmental level and because of the importance and fairness of LIV golfers qualifying for OWGR points,” Atul Khosla, President and COO of LIV Golf, said. “We’re pleased to create pathways that give more opportunities for young players, while also giving fans rankings that include all the world’s best golfers.”

“This is a very exciting day for the MENA Tour and our players,” David Spencer, MENA Tour Commissioner, said. “Through this alliance, our players will now have enhanced playing opportunities and stronger pathways. This is great news for the future of many young players on our Tour.”

But what is the MENA Tour? The development circuit was founded in 2011 by the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation, is based in Dubai and holds tournaments throughout the Middle East and North Africa, but it was hit hard by the Covid pandemic and hasn’t held any events since the pandemic.

The little-known Tour, which has been eligible for world ranking points since 2016, claims that the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok is in fact its opening event of the 2022-23 season and will include next year’s LIV schedule.

Initially, this tactical move seemed to mean that LIV Golf players would begin receiving points from the very next event – the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok, won by Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra.

But the OWGR has confirmed that LIV Golf events this season will not offer world ranking points, despite the Saudi-backed circuit’s new partnership.

LIV Golf makes its Asian debut in Bangkok, with Official World Golf Rankings points set to be available.

In a statement, the OWGR said: “Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) received a communication from the MENA Tour on October 5th, 2022, at 13:05 BST. The communication detailed significant changes to the MENA Tour’s membership structure along with an outline of the initial series of tournaments in the 2022/23 MENA Tour season.

“OWGR notes that the first two tournaments in this series appeared to be the same as the LIV Golf Invitational Series tournaments in Bangkok and Jeddah. The communication from the MENA Tour included a starting field data file for the Bangkok tournament, confirming that to be the case.

“A review of the changes to the MENA Tour is now underway by the OWGR. Notice of these changes given by the MENA Tour is insufficient to allow OWGR to conduct the customary necessary review ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok (7-9 October) and LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah (14-16 October).

“Only after the review is complete will a decision be made on awarding points to the MENA Tour’s new “Limited Field Tournaments”, defined by the MENA Tour in its Regulations as “any MENA Tour-approved tournament, which comprises of a player field of less than 80 players”.

MENA Tour Commissioner David Spencer was quick to hit back at the decision, saying that not including LIV’s Bangkok event in the OWGR would render the rankings inaccurate.

“We have had various communications with OWGR since submitting our 2022/23 schedule, MENA Tour handbook, exemption criteria and our field ahead of our opening event of our new season which tees off today,” he said in a statement. “None of this communication pointed towards any technical reason for the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok to be treated any differently to any MENA Tour event, every one of which has received OWGR since we were accepted into the OWGR framework in 2016.

“We have followed the OWGR Guidelines for our 2022/23 Season. Recently, there has been much talk in the golf world about limited field tournaments and 54-hole tournaments. For absolute clarity, the OWGR itself defines a limited field tournament as a tournament which has less than 30 qualified players. Furthermore, the MENA Tour has always had the OWGR’s blessing to stage 54-hole tournaments.

Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra won $4.75m at the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok.

“The OWGR states: “The primary objective of the Ranking is to maintain, review, update, administer and promote the recognition of a system that fairly ranks the relative performance of golfers participating in the leading men’s professional tournaments throughout the world”. Clearly, the MENA Tour’s first event of the 2022/23 season, the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok, is one of those tournaments and accordingly should be included in this week’s OWGR events. Not including our event in this week’s OWGR render the results and subsequent player movements inaccurate.

“As per the OWGR Guidelines , we will be lodging our field for the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah prior to the deadline of October 12th. I also want to wish our 48 MENA Tour Members who are teeing off in Bangkok this morning all the very best for our first tournament of the 2022/23 season and assure all of our Members that we will continue to work tirelessly to resolve this situation with the OWGR.

“The MENA Tour’s guiding principle of maximising playing opportunities and pathways for our Members and growing the great game of golf remains unchanged.”

LIV is now considering adding a cut to its tournaments in a bid to meet OWGR criteria. They plan to ‘cut’ their fields from 48 players to 45 after the second round. However, those three players would still be allowed to play in the final round to post a score for their team.

Brooks Koepka has joined LIV Golf.

Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, Major winners and two of LIV’s star names, also voiced their disappointment at the decision.

“I don’t think it really was much of a response,” four-time major winner Koepka said. “I just hate when you sit on the fence. Just pick a side. If it’s yes or no, just pick one.

“So I’m not a big fan of that. Yeah, not to say something to where it’s not really an answer and we’ll think about it. Just pick a side.

““If it’s yes, if it’s no, it’s fine, we’ll figure it out from there.”

Bryson DeChambeau speaks at the LIV Golf Chicago event.

Koepka’s long-time rival DeChambeau said the OWGR is “delaying the inevitable”.

“We’ve hit every mark in their criteria, so for us not to get points is kind of crazy with having the top – at least I believe we have the top players in the world,” the big-hitting American said. “Not all of them, but we certainly believe that there’s enough that are in the top 50, and we deserve to be getting world ranking points.

“When they keep holding it back, they’re going to just keep playing a waiting game where we’re going to keep dropping down in the rankings to where our points won’t ever matter.

“That’s what they’re trying to accomplish, and I hope that people can see right through that rather than believe the lies that they’ve been told. From my perspective, I think we deserve points.”

RELATED: LIV’s battle for world ranking points explained

If LIV Golf does find a way to secure OWGR points for its players, it could signal an end to LIV’s players’ slide down the world rankings and fears that, without exemptions, they would lose their places in Majors. Having been banned from the PGA Tour, only a handful of players have managed to gain OWGR points since joining LIV by teeing it up in DP World Tour and Asian Tour events.

The concern for the PGA Tour and DP World Tour is that removing the fear of missing out on Majors would encourage even more of the game’s biggest names to make the switch to LIV Golf.

RELATED: LIV Golf’s $405m plan for 2023

The big-money series is due to move to a league format next year with 13 individual events and the same 48 points playing in every tournament, forming team franchises that fans will be able to support. The tournaments will continue to offer huge purses, with $20m up for grabs, along with $5m to be split among the top three teams.

Rankings points for LIV Golf players would be positive for the likes of Dustin Johnson who, despite displaying exceptional form since joining LIV, has slid down the pile.

Dustin Johnson celebrates his victory at the LIV Golf Invitational Boston.

If LIV had offered world ranking points at their first three events, all of the tournaments would have offered more points than the comparable DP World Tour and PGA Tour events played in the same week, based on the OWGR standard of field criteria. Had points been awarded in LIV’s Bedminster event, winner Henrik Stenson would have jumped from 173rd to 80th in the rankings, while Johnson’s victory in Boston would’ve seen him leap back up the rankings.

Johnson hasn’t finished outside of the top-10 in a LIV Golf event, winning one, recording two other top-threes and earning more than $12m in the process, but has seen his world ranking slip to 23rd.

“Over Labor Day weekend in Boston, he [Johnson] defeated 15 golfers who had finished either first or second in the four Majors, including the Champion Golfer of the Year for 2022,” LIV wrote in their letter to the OWGR chairman. “For the rankings to be accurate, DJ deserves to move up, not down.”

RELATED: The history of golf’s world rankings

Open champion Cameron Smith is another example. The Australian was on the cusp of topping the rankings when he joined LIV, but has slipped from 2nd to 3rd despite finishing T4 on his first start and winning on his second appearance.

Phil Mickelson has seen the biggest fall, dropping from 72nd on June 4 to 134th at the start of the week commencing October 3.

As part of the new “strategic alliance” LIV’s stars will also be able to play in other MENA Tour events but, despite the links with the big-money series, the tournaments will continue to carry their original purses, believed to be less than $100,000.

PGA Tour CEO Jay Monahan and DP World Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley are working together to try and combat the threat from LIV Golf.

The OWGR battle has been ongoing ever since LIV submitted its application for status after its inaugural event. it is believed that both the PGA and DP World Tours are against LIV receiving points which has caused further anger for Norman due to Jay Monahan (above left), the PGA Tour commissioner, and Keith Pelley (above right), the DP World Tour chief executive, both being on the world rankings board.

The Australian had called on both men to abstain from any vote regarding LIV, a move which LIV’s players backed in their letter to Peter Dawson (pictured below with Dustin Johnson in happier times).

“Your stewardship has ensured the Official World Golf Ranking status as one of the most respected institutions in sports. As the athletes who are ranked, we depend on OWGR not just to qualify for the most important events, including the Majors and Olympics, but to tell us where we stand among our peers. Trust in the OWGR has been widespread and well-deserved.”

RELATED: How much have LIV Golf players earned so far?

The letter said the OWGR would be “incomplete and inaccurate” if LIV events continue to be ignored and compares their omission with “leaving Belgium, Argentina, and England out of the FIFA rankings”.

“Some 23 tours are integrated into the OWGR universe, and LIV has earned its place among them,” the letter continues. “Four LIV golfers have held the number-one position on the OWGR, and one is currently number-two. LIV’s roster includes 21 of the last 51 winners of the four Majors. The level of competition at the average LIV event is at least equal to that at the average PGA Tour event. We know because we’ve played in both.”

Official World Golf Rankings Chairman Peter Dawson presents Dustin Johnson with the OWGR McCormack Award at the 2019 Open.

But while some have seen OWGR’s failure to recognise LIV as a bid to limit its success, the fact remains that the process for any Tour to join the rankings always takes a year and those applying must meet the necessary criteria.

Norman, who was World No.1 for a cumulative 331 weeks between 1986 and 1998, has acknowledged that LIV doesn’t meet the 14 different criteria required, including:

– Recognized events must be 72 holes; LIV’s are 54. (Exceptions have been granted for developmental tours, and LIV believe OWGR doesn’t make this mandatory.)

– The field should average 75 golfers over the course of a season; LIV fields are capped at 48.

– Tournaments should include a 36-hole cut; LIV events have no cut.

– Tours must host an open qualifying school before each season; LIV has handpicked its roster of golfers, although the circuit has plans for a promotion series, which would allow as many as 12 players to move up to LIV Golf events.

– Tours should hold spots for local and regional players. The PGA Tour, for example, hosts an 18-hole competition the Monday before a tournament, with four finishers advancing to the main tournament. LIV has announced no such offering.

RELATED: The DP World and PGA Tour alliance explained

However, Norman and LIV’s other senior figures now believe that being part of the MENA Tour ensures they tick the majority of boxes and use.

Rory McIlroy won his 21st PGA Tour title at the 2022 Canadian Open

While the majority of players who have remained loyal to the DP World and PGA Tours have been critical of the new serie and the players who have jumped ship, some have suggested that it should receive ranking points, including World No.2 Rory McIlroy.

“I certainly would want the best players in the world ranked accordingly,” McIlroy said. “I think if Dustin Johnson is somewhere around 100th in the world then it’s not an accurate reflection of where he is in the game.

“But at the same time, you can’t make up your own rules. If they want to pivot to meet the criteria, they can… I certainly have no problem with them getting world ranking points, at all. But if you don’t meet the criteria, it’s going to be hard to justify why you should have them.”

Others don’t agree.

“I mean, I don’t understand. It’s very obvious and written there right in front of them, they just naturally want what’s best for them. Just like the decision they made to go there,” Justin Thomas said at The Presidents Cup.

“I totally understand if I was doing the same situation, I would want it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

“The governing bodies have created a system for a reason, and that’s to try and create the best system possible to determine the best players in the world.

“Now, is it going to be skewed because some of the top players aren’t in there? Yeah, but that’s their own fault.”

Meanwhile former World No.1 Ernie Els compared LIV’s situation to the Champions Tour.

“The rest of the world is playing 72-hole stroke-play events. You have a cut after 36 holes and that’s how you get your ranking and make your money. LIV Golf doesn’t do that, so why would you be under the same brush with the rest of the world,” the South African said. “It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a different format of golf. It’s what we do on the Champions Tour at the age of 50 and they don’t give us world ranking points.

“Just because you are playing for $20 million a week doesn’t change anything. It’s still 54 holes. There’s no basis to it, there’s no substance to it. You can’t have a 48-man tour playing no-cut golf and expect the world to take you seriously. It’s not going to happen.”

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