In a letter sent to LIV golfers on Wednesday, CEO and commissioner Greg Norman said the new circuit “by any fair, objective and impartial review” should be awarded Official World Golf Ranking points for its events in the very near future.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, Norman wrote that LIV Golf’s inclusion in the world ranking points system is “necessary for the integrity, accuracy and fairness” of the rankings.
LIV Golf officials submitted their application to the OWGR in mid-July and it was discussed by the OWGR Technical Committee during the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews, according to Norman.
“Without LIV’s inclusion, the integrity and accuracy of the rankings themselves are severely compromised,” Norman wrote. “We trust the members of the Governing Board of OWGR will understand and appreciate this key consideration, and that they will treat this development with the respect it deserves and consistent with their responsibilities as directors of the Official World Golf Rankings and the duties that attend those directorshipsLIV Golf players did not receive OWGR world ranking points for the new circuit’s first three events in London; Portland, Oregon; and Bedminster, New Jersey.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who has suspended players for competing in LIV Golf tournaments without a conflicting-event release, is one of the eight members of the OWGR board of governors. Other members include DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley, USGA CEO Mike Whan, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers, PGA of America executive director Seth Waugh, Augusta National Golf Club executive director Will Jones, and Keith Waters, who represents the International Federation of PGA Tours.
In the letter, Norman noted that based on the OWGR system in place at the time, the first three LIV events would have had better strengths of field than two competing tournaments on the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.
Several past major champions, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, have left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf, which is being financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
“The proportion of leading players in the world competing on the LIV Series means that, despite smaller fields than some existing tour events and those that took place opposite the LIV Invitational events, the [strength of field] remains highly competitive and among the top few in the industry,” Norman wrote.
According to LIV Golf’s data, the winners of its first three events would have climbed in the world rankings considerably had they been awarded OWGR points. For instance, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, the inaugural winner in London, would have climbed from 125th to 85th. Branden Grace, who was first in Portland, would have risen from 128th to 78th, and Henrik Stenson, winner in Bedminster, would have moved from 173rd to 80th.
Schwartzel is currently ranked 121st in the OWGR, Grace is 139th and Stenson is 176th.
World ranking points are used to determine exemptions and fields for the majors: the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The Open.
“These moves (together with others that would have occurred) are significant not only because of their effect on players’ personal endorsements and playing opportunities (i.e., Major exemptions), but also for the accuracy and credibility of the OWGR itself,” Norman wrote.
“Without including player performances against these industry-leading [LIV] fields, the OWGR are now inaccurate. Should this continue much longer, the rankings will become even more inaccurate and marginalized, with many of the LIV Golf players having lower rankings than they are rightfully entitled to, as well as non-LIV Golf players enjoying falsely enhanced rankings. Simply put, it will be impossible to consider the OWGR ratings accurate or even relevant if OWGR persists in omitting 48 of the best golfers in the world.”
Johnson, a former world No. 1 golfer, has fallen from 13th to 21st, his worst position since 2015, since joining LIV Golf. Koepka has dropped from 19th to 25th, and Reed has gone from 38th to 49th. Mickelson, a six-time major winner, started the year ranked 34th in the world but is now 104th.
There are 14 criteria for reaching eligibility for OWGR recognition, and Norman noted that LIV Golf didn’t directly meet all of them. One of the criteria includes not having a cut after 36 holes; LIV Golf tournaments are 54 holes with no cuts.
But other tournaments, including the BMW Championship, Tour Championship, Hero World Challenge and World Golf Championships, don’t have cuts and are still awarded OWGR points.
“By any measure, it would be wrong to deny points to LIV players in light of the OWGR granting other tour players points in similar, if not less competitive, circumstances,” Norman wrote.
Other criteria that LIV Golf didn’t directly satisfy included tournaments having an average field of at least 75 players (LIV has 48 players on 12 four-man teams); a tour holding an annual open qualifying school before the start of each season; a structured opportunity for at least five players to progress to the full member tour that is proposing its application (in LIV’s case, the Asian Tour); and a tour demonstrating that it has complied with OWGR guidelines for a period of one year.
Norman wrote that between the LIV Golf Invitational Series and International Series, which will be co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour in 2023, LIV events will have an average field of 88 players. LIV Golf plans to host a LIV promotions event, in which players will have a “chance to earn their playing place,” and its leading five players at the end of each season will be awarded a full Asian Tour card.
“Although LIV Golf has operated for over a year, the LIV Golf Invitational Series is still in its initial year,” Norman wrote. “In light of the implications for OWGR and its credibility of not affording LIV Golf players appropriate points, and in view of LIV Golf’s unprecedented strength of field for a tour in its infancy, we have urged that OWGR gain comfort with LIV Golf’s status, because it is plainly in the best interests of the OWGR, players, and the game to do so.”
Also Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reviewed a draft contract for LIV players, and it includes clauses that require them to be available to recruit others to the league and to get permission before granting exclusive interviews.
The draft contract reviewed by the Journal did not include any signing bonuses, though the newspaper said one detail was a $1 million bonus for winning a major championship.
Among other provisions in the draft contract was approval for most of the logos they wear and branded products they use at events.
The Journal reported that apparel requirements were noted “multiple times” in the draft contract it reviewed and that players are to only wear appropriate “Team Apparel” during any LIV activity or “any other covered golf activity.”
“The Player agrees to wear LIV Golf branding (or other branding supplied by the League Operator) at each Tournament and each other golf tournament you participate in anywhere in the world,” it states.
The Journal cited a person familiar with LIV thinking as saying that clause was geared toward next year when the 12 teams will be set for the year.
It cited another provision that required players to agree to refrain from “providing exclusive interviews or commentaries” in relation to any event or league activity without approval. The draft contract also said players agree to “where requested, assist the League Operator in seeking to persuade players to enter into multiyear player participation agreements with the League Operator.”
The newspaper said the draft contract indicates players broadly sign away their media rights from LIV events, similar to PGA Tour regulations.
It also says LIV golfers can play anywhere in the world provided it isn’t the same week as a LIV Golf event. Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland missed the Irish Open this year because it was the same week as LIV Golf Invitational-Portland.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.