US Golf Association chief executive Mike Whan says he could foresee Saudi-backed LIV Golf players having a harder time getting into future US Opens.
On the eve of the 122nd US Open at The Country Club in Brookline, where stars from both the PGA Tour and upstart LIV Golf will compete, Whan said he was sad over the sport’s split but wouldn’t be drawn into possible future major bans.
“The question was could you envision a day where it would be harder for some folks doing different things to get into a US Open? I could,” Whan said. “Do I know what that day looks like? No, I don’t.”
The PGA Tour imposed an indefinite suspension on 17 current or former members who played the LIV Golf opener last week in England, including US stars Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
“It got our attention,” Whan said of the bans.
But the USGA, without speaking to PGA commissioner Jay Monahan, decided last week to stay with pre-determined qualifying standards for this week’s US Open, choosing not to ban rebels chasing record prize money in the LIV Golf Series.
“We had to make some tough decisions that not everybody agrees with,” Whan said. “I understand if people want to play a heck of a lot less golf and get paid more money, and that’s a choice and that’s great. What that means to the future of the game? I think to be determined.”
In justifying not banning LIV Golf players, Whan noted 30 PGA players were allowed to compete at a DP World Tour event with the same Saudi backers earlier this year.
“We did sit down and have a long conversation,” Whan said. “Did where somebody else play and what promoter they played it with disqualify them for this event? We decided no.”
Even if Majors allow LIV players, there are no world ranking points for LIV Golf events, so LIV players figure to fade from eligibility without access from prior triumphs.
Whan, a member of the world rankings board, said LIV Golf has made no submission seeking such points, but notes how it has evolved over time.
“What we’re talking about was different two years ago and it was different two months ago than it is today,” he said. “Everybody … we work with need to take a long-term view of this and see where these things go.”
The USGA will re-examine its qualifying criteria for next year as well.
“I’m saddened by what’s happening in the professional game, mostly as a fan because I like watching the best players in the world come together and play, and this is going to fracture that,” Whan said.
“It looks like it’s good for a few folks playing the game, but I’m struggling with how this is good for the game.
“What concerns me the most is we could get to the point where a couple of people hold those [control] strings and how they act may or may not be great for the game.”
The $17.5-million US Open, offering less than LIV’s $25m debut event, has been overshadowed by LIV-PGA rift.
“We’re praying that changes,” Whan said. “As soon as we tee this up, we’ll have something else to talk about, at least for the next four days.”
The world’s best are gathering on a layout where golf has been played since the 1890s.
“The ghosts of the past matter,” USGA chief championships officer John Bodenhamer said. “You can’t buy history. You can only earn it.”
© Agence France-Presse