The LIV Golf rumor mill doesn’t stop for football season. According to LIV Bangkok champion Eugenio López-Chacarra, the upstart circuit is considering adding a 36-hole cut to its tournaments. This past Monday, in a Spanish-language interview with journalist Hugo Costa, Chacarra explained that the proposed cut would eliminate three players from the individual competition before the third and final round, reducing the field from 48 to 45. Those three players would still participate in the team competition on the last day.
If this mini-cut becomes a reality, it would be the latest of LIV’s spurious efforts to become part of professional golf’s main ecosystem. The league wants (is desperate?) to receive Official World Golf Ranking points so that its players can qualify more easily for the four major championships. But to become an OWGR tour, LIV needs to adhere to certain standards, such as having a 36-hole cut at most of its events. Of course, a three-man cut seems less a sincere concession than a stratagem cooked up by antitrust lawyers. “See?” a future filing will no doubt read. “We did the cut thing and they still didn’t give us points!”
This ploy, like LIV’s “strategic alliance” with the MENA Tour, doesn’t deserve serious analysis; it’s pure theater. But the broader conflict between LIV and the established order of the men’s professional game has raised some worthwhile questions about the OWGR’s membership criteria. The criteria that LIV may not meet, according to a Golf Digest report, include the following:
- An embrace of inclusion and promoting non-discriminatory practices.
- Competitions contested over 72 holes, except for developmental tours… which are permitted to be 54-hole events.
- An open annual qualifying school held before the start of each season.
- A field size on average of 75 players over the course of a season.
- A 36-hole cut, whether playing 54 or 72 holes.
- A clear opportunity to progress to a full member tour….
- Reasonable access for local and regional players (i.e. Monday qualifiers) at each of its tournaments.
While these are more guidelines than hard-and-fast rules (the World Golf Championships have small field sizes and no cuts; the PGA Tour has recently concentrated its qualifying process in the Korn Ferry Tour rather than a standalone Q-School; etc.), OWGR tours are generally expected to emphasize accessible qualification, large fields, 72-hole events, and 36-hole cuts. It’s fair to ask whether this is good for pro golf.
On the one hand, any ranking system needs to set standards for what constitutes legitimate competition. Tiger and Rory’s made-for-TV launch-monitor league and Augusta National’s Drive, Chip & Putt should not get points, for instance. On the other hand, the OWGR should be flexible enough to allow for innovation in the game. If the major golf tours become bogged down by restrictions, they will stop experimenting and improving—and many would argue they already have.
So let’s look a few of the main OWGR criteria and consider whether they’re worth keeping:
An open qualifying process – This is the core principle that needs to be protected. Pro golf should be as much of a meritocracy as possible, and a player’s ability to earn world-ranking points should not be purely subject to the whims of sponsors or tour CEOs. Right now, LIV Golf is essentially the Greg Norman Invitational. That’s the main reason, in my opinion, that it should be denied OWGR points in its current form.
Average field size of 75 players – Since the latest OWGR formula strongly weights field size, I don’t see why this criterion is necessary. Small-field tournaments can be novel and entertaining; let’s not further discourage tours from holding them. (Note: the OWGR isn’t all-powerful here. The PGA Tour averages well over 75 players per field not because bloated events are fun to watch but because Ponte Vedra execs are incentivized by bonuses to create as many playing opportunities as possible.)
72-hole tournaments – Fire this one into the sun. There’s nothing illegitimate about a 54-hole golf tournament. Hell, the Open was a 36-hole event until 1892. If the OWGR wants to make a 72-hole win more valuable than a 54-hole one (which would be understandable), it should incorporate tournament length into its field-rating formula.
A 36-hole cut – Sorry, I need to punt here. The debate about cuts deserves more space than I can give it right now. If you’re keen to read a full article on the topic, let me know and I’ll give it a try next week. Briefly, though: back in August, I asked the Twitter hivemind for thoughts on the issue, and I learned a lot. I came away believing that cuts have an important place in competitive golf. Here are a couple of my favorite contributions to that discussion:
My answer: A cut elevates the importance of each shot. There’s value to being sent packing while your peers continue to compete. Low lows raise the height of high highs. Maximizing emotional swings benefits fans.
— Joseph LaMagna (@JosephLaMagna) August 21, 2022
Amongst other things… it’s part of pro golf’s mental tightrope, which I think(?) fans get and appreciate.
Can you hold your nerve and be in contention even after you’ve missed 5 cuts in a row?
How does the world number 1 miss a cut?
Golf is a human game and cuts highlight that
— Meghan MacLaren (@meg_maclaren) August 20, 2022
On the whole, I think the OWGR’s membership criteria are… fine. They’re fine! Not perfect, not terrible. They establish a mostly reasonable definition of official competition, and they allow tours a degree of flexibility to try alternative formats. (Though in the case of the Tour Championship’s 30-player staggered-start concept, one may wish that the PGA Tour had been granted less freedom.) I’d like to see some requirements loosened and others thrown out, but I hope the OWGR stands firm on open qualifying and makes clear that an invitation-only league can’t be a pathway to the majors.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg Newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.