With the Ryder Cup over, the rest of the year in men’s pro golf will be largely dominated by off-the-course shapeshifting and negotiations for the future of the sport. Tuesday brought news on this front, as the Official World Golf Rankings announced that it had denied LIV Golf’s application for world ranking points.
In a report by Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press, OWGR chairman Peter Dawson was quoted as saying, “This decision not to make them eligible is not political. It is entirely technical. LIV players are self-evidently good enough to be ranked. They’re just not playing in a format where they can be ranked equitably with the other 24 tours and thousands of players trying to compete on them.” Dawson is precise in preemptively cutting out the legs from some of the retorts to the decision, acknowledging that players like DJ and Sergio would be highly ranked talents by any on-course metric.
But the onus, and blame, lies with the league. That’s a fitting word – lie – because that seems to be what these players were told by Greg Norman in the haste of throwing this operation together. They were told OWGR points would come, it would all be figured out, they could not be denied, and major exemptions would follow. But this thing was thrown together so fast and with such abandon that planning for points, or more specifically, the planning for the potential outcome of no points, was seemingly negligible. The blindsiding nature of their pointless plight was quite evident given the anger and desperate cries on the subject. The skepticism about OWGR impartiality is warranted given that Jay Monahan and Scott Pelley have board seats on this establishment outfit, though both officially recused themselves from this process.
But Dawson’s reasoning takes pains to suggest the league has some intractable issues that make it an entirely different game to rank, and that doing so would be unfair to the other tours. It’s a different sport, a different product, akin to ranking quarterbacks from a 7-on-7 league and an 11-on-11 league in the same bucket based on their stats. Dawson actually cites LIV’s lack of cuts and 54-hole structure as elements that could be overcome. The larger issue is that LIV is a closed shop, with players who contractually cannot lose their status no matter how poorly they play, and no real methods of qualification to be promoted into its upper tier.
“I hope that LIV can find a solution — not so much their format; that can be dealt with through a mathematical formula — but the qualification and relegation,” Dawson added.
More problematic for LIV is that Greg Norman has said these tenets are not changing, and they would be quite difficult to adjust at this point, given signed contracts and the foundational principles of the league. Dawson suggested the OWGR board would reconsider the ruling if some of these alterations could be made. But again, that would be changing the foundation upon which this league was constructed and launched, however hastily.
Depending on who you scanned for reaction, this decision was either a big surprise or entirely predictable. The detente wrought by the Framework Agreement would seem to suggest an increased appetite to certify LIV. Does this decision signal the potential unraveling of that agreement? It’s probably unrelated to anything going on with those negotiations, but it is a fresh deterrent for future LIV defections should the arms race resume. And what happens at the majors, who also had a vote on this via their spots on the OWGR board? Does this usher in the need for some LIV-based exemptions at the biggest events of the year? The future of golf remains in flux, on every tour. Our winter of malcontents approaches.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.