LALI STANDER: A collision between LIV defectors and PGA loyalists? Let’s hope not
The biggest news in the past fortnight — in case you missed it — is that Cameron Smith will be allowed to defend his Open Championship title come July. All for one, and one for all.
Following the lead of the Masters, the PGA Championship and the US Open, the R&A made it official on Tuesday: members of the breakaway LIV Golf Tour will be eligible to play in the 151st edition of the Major this year at Royal Liverpool from July 20-23.
In fact, in releasing its schedule for the qualifying events and exemption categories for the 2023 event, the R&A listed players who have already earned an invite to Hoylake in July.
Smith became the first Australian in almost 30 years to win the British Open last July, but then shocked the golf fans when he switched to Greg Norman’s LIV Golf on a deal worth a reported $140m after his victory at St Andrews.
LIV golfers are banned from playing on the PGA Tour, but just as it did in 2022, the R&A has remained steadfast in its decision that no-one will be banned based on tour affiliation, hence the qualifying LIV Golf players being able to tee up again.
For some months after Smith’s “defection” to the Saudi-based circuit, the general feeling was surely that the R&A would draw a line in the sand, as the PGA Tour has done, but the organisation has been saying for months it doesn’t view the LIV Golf the same way.
R&A chief Martin Slumbers simply stated that banning LIV golfers is “not on our agenda. We are not going to betray 150 years of history and have the Open not be open. The name says it all. And that’s important. What we will do is ensure that there are appropriate pathways and ways to qualify”.
Though seeing the likes of Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau on the small screen doesn’t particularly speed up my heart rate, I’m excited to watch Major winners such as Louis Oosthuizen, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and the defending champion showing off their skill sets at Royal Liverpool.
Watching an interview with Johnnie Cole-Hamilton recently, the executive director of champions at the R&A was diplomatic, saying the organisation is grateful to their colleagues at the professional tours for their support. Then the punchline followed: “We have created an exciting schedule of events which takes in many regions around the world and provides the chance for golfers to earn a place in the Open at Royal Liverpool.”
My opinion and that of many golf officials, fans, supporters and lovers of the game is that the Majors are the pinnacle of golf, and we expect all golfers to be allowed to compete in them, no matter which tour they play in. Augusta National will welcome the best of the best in April. The PGA Championship follows suit in April and the US Open after that. It’s great to see the last Major in the 2023 rota is sticking to the script.
When Augusta National announced that it would allow all qualified players to compete, it set up a collision course of LIV Golf defectors and PGA Tour loyalists and, no doubt, things could get a little tense.
You had to laugh at Jon Rahm, who said he won’t be at the champions dinner at the Masters, but he’d kill to be a fly on the wall.
Reed, Johnson, former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson all made the early jump to LIV, and have all received the coveted green envelope with their special, personal invitations.
So have the Tour loyalists Jack Nicklaus, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and 2022’s winner Scottie Scheffler. Rahm hasn’t cracked one of those lifetime invitations yet, but during an interview at the PGA Tour’s first event of the year, when asked what he was most curious about for the new season, he mentioned a few of the Tour’s new elevated events and then said one particular event in April has been at the top of his mind.
“One thing I keep going back to, and it’s probably only funny to me,” he said on Tuesday at Kapalua with a laugh, “I think the Masters Champions Dinner’s going to be a little tense compared to how it’s been in the past. I’m a little envious to see how the two groups mingle. I keep thinking about it because I wish I could be there and just be able to see how things work out.”
Too bad the US Open doesn’t have one of those, Jon.
Many players like Rahm, who congratulated Spanish countryman Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra for his maiden LIV win during his own winning speech at the Spanish Open, respect the choices of their peers.
“In my mind, the ones I was friends with before ... I’m still going to be friends with, right? It doesn’t change the way I’m going to operate with them,” Rahm said. “I think a lot of, let’s say, animosity, if there’s any, might be created more by the media than anything else. I don’t think there’s that much of a problem between players, at least in person, because if there is, they can just avoid each other.”
And avoid each other they must so that we mere mortals who live for the four Majors can have the joy of watching the best in the world … the incredible shot-making, the dramatic chases, the collapses and the hot streaks, the climax late on Sunday.
The entire package would just not be same without them all present and accounted for.
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