Why the Majors Need to Adapt to Maintain Their Quality of Competition
Last Sunday, Brooks Koepka won yet another PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Western New York. Koepka, captain of Team Smash on the LIV Tour, had yet another stellar major performance after his T-2 at Augusta National.
However, Koepka is not alone in LIV talent exceeding expectations on golf’s biggest stages. Last April at Augusta, fellow Tour members Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed finished in the top 5. Furthermore, last weekend at The PGA Championship, LIV golfers Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith finished in the Top 10, in addition to the aforementioned Koepka win.
For much of LIV Golf’s tumultuous history, critics have cited concerns about members of the Saudi-backed tour having a large drop off in quality of play. Clearly, this has not been the case.
It is also important to note that LIV golfers can only receive significant World Ranking Points in the majors, which has caused many of their spots in said ranking to plummet.
For example, even after their stellar performances last weekend at Oak Hill, Koepka is still only ranked 13th in the world and DeChambeau clocks in at 90th in the world, despite the fact that based off eye test and recent performances in majors it’s clear that both of these players are much better than their rankings indicate.
The World Golf Rankings are used for exemptions into all majors, so it is and will only become more challenging for LIV golfers to compete in golf’s biggest events as their tour is not allocated world ranking points, despite the fact that their play has not tapered, and in some cases, actually improved.
While some critics may say that these players cannot have their cake and eat it too, the majors have always pledged to compile the best field possible and an exclusion of LIV golfers would be a failure to uphold this pledge, and also a disservice to a fanbase, that all tours and governing bodies in golf have pledged to grow.
So how do the majors adapt to the LIV players’ drop in the World Rankings?
And the potential falling out of exempt status, assuming that World Ranking points will continue to not be allocated for LIV Golf events?
The best way would be to add an exemption to golf’s four biggest events. The one that makes the most sense is adding the top five LIV golfers on the individual standings list that are not already exempt for the majors.
If this exemption was put into place for next month’s US Open, at Los Angeles Country Club, the following players would become exempt: Talor Gooch, Charles Howell lll, Peter Uihlein, Branden Grace, and Carlos Ortiz. This would bring the field total of LIV golfers to 17, a number that is similar to the amount included in the Masters and PGA Championship.
Now, would this exemption change cause a huge restructure in major championship exemptions?
The answer is a resounding no. The easiest implementation would be at the Masters, as they do not have a full field of 156 players like the other majors and are flexible in how many players play.
The total number of Masters participants usually ranges from 85-95, so adding five more golfers would not be a huge burden at all.
The PGA championship would have a similar level of ease in terms of implementing this new exemption. They could shrink their current number of players exempt from PGA Championship points to 65 rather than the current 70, or cut back on the number of special exemptions they give out, which this year included Luke Donald and Zach Johnson.
The US Open is a little different since one of the aspects that makes it so great is that a large percentage of their field is made up of players that earn their spots through qualifying tournaments held by the USGA.
However, one thing that the US Open has that is different from the other majors is that it invites the top 60 in the world rankings rather than the top 50 like the Masters and Open Championship.
Shrinking this number to 55 would be a great way to add the exemption change for LIV golfers.
Finally, the British Open has a great opportunity to implement this exemption change. The Open Championship currently invites the previous year’s top 30 players in the Race to Dubai Rankings from the DP World Tour.
However, with many of their best players leapfrogging over to the PGA counterpart due to increased purses, not to mention some of their mainstays leaving for LIV (Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter) the quality of play on the DP World Tour has clearly decreased, so shrinking this exemption to 25 would maintain the European representation while also upping the level of competition.
After displaying in both of golf’s first two majors that jumping to LIV does not correlate with diminished quality of play, it is time for golf’s biggest events to add exemptions for LIV Golf in order to maintain the quality of fields, level of competition, and exciting finishes.
Golf’s governing bodies must use their desire to grow the game as the catalyst for implementing this change, because at the end of the day, golf fans just want to watch all the best players in the world compete, separate from politics.