BROOKLINE, Mass. — The United States Golf Association is not prohibiting players from competing in this week’s U.S. Open due to their affiliation with the LIV Golf Invitational Series. But the organization that governs golf in the United States and Mexico and which administers the U.S. Open left open the possibility that it could do so in the future.
Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA, said in a pre-tournament press conference Wednesday at The Country Club that he could see the organization considering ways in the future to make it more difficult for LIV Golf players to compete in the U.S. Open.
“Could I foresee a day? Yeah,’’ Whan said. “Do I know what that day looks like? I don’t. What we’re talking about (with LIV Golf)) was different two years ago and it was different months ago than it is today.
“We’ve been doing this for 127 years. So I think we need to take a long-term view of this and see kind of where things go. It’s not going to be a knee-jerk reaction. The question was, could you envision a day where it’d be harder for some folks doing different things to get into a U.S. Open? I could. I don’t know, but I could definitely foresee that day.’’
Players such as Dustin Johnson, Kevin Na, Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen have withdrawn their memberships from the PGA Tour with perhaps the fear that they might be suspended, thus leading to the U.S. Open honoring it.
All four of those players are in the U.S. Open field after competing in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event last week.
But the USGA said lack of consent from the PGA Tour to compete in an alternative event or series would not keep them from playing in the U.S. Open.
“We pride ourselves in being the most open championship in the world and the players who have earned the right to compete in this year’s championship, both via exemption and qualifying, will have the opportunity to do so,’’ the USGA said in a statement. “Our field criteria were set prior to entries opening earlier this year and it’s not appropriate, nor fair to competitors, to change criteria once established.
“Regarding players who may choose to play in London this week, we simply asked ourselves this question — should a player who had earned his way into the 2022 U.S. Open, via our published field criteria, be pulled out of the field as a result of his decision to play in another event? And we ultimately decided that they should not.’’
The controversy surrounding the event includes its funding from the Saudi Public Investment Fund and the threat LIV Golf poses to the PGA Tour. It has left many wondering if the major championships would take action.
Although the PGA Tour has no jurisdiction over the majors, it does work closely with them and many exemption criteria are tied to PGA Tour performance.
Phil Mickelson, who earned a spot in the 2022 U.S. Open by winning last year’s PGA Championship, has not withdrawn his PGA Tour membership and said last week in an interview with SI.com/Morning Read that he felt confident he would not be denied a spot in the majors.
Mickelson, who turns 52 Thursday, is exempt for the Masters and PGA for life, and for the British Open through age 60 due to his victories in those tournaments.
“I’ve had many conversations with the organizations that run the majors,’’ Mickelson said. “And I do want to keep those conversations private. But I am looking forward to playing the U.S. Open and I’ll be there. I’m under the understanding that I’m able to play.’’
One way the USGA or any organization could make it harder to compete in a major is to skew its qualification criteria and put more emphasis on recognized tours or even diminishing the number who qualify via the Official World Golf Ranking. So far, LIV Golf events are not being afforded OWGR points.
As for the Saudi funding of the LIV Golf Series, Whan acknowledged that complications that come from restricting someone strictly for that reason.
“Whether we all like it or not, in February 30 guys played for the same promoter in Saudi Arabia with an acceptable release from the PGA Tour, and for years the DP World Tour has had an event there, same promoter,” he said.
“I’m sure there are players that both came through our qualifying and maybe teeing it up that are sponsored by those different (entities) — so we asked ourselves the question one week before if you play somewhere where you’re not approved to play, would you be disqualified for the 2022 U.S. Open? And we said no.
“And we also had to ask the question, if you’re going to put that kind of clause in, who gets in, we’ve got to go back to 9,300 people (who entered the U.S. Open) and played and where were they sponsored. It becomes a pretty slippery slope to try to apply that across 9,300 people.’’
Ed’s Note: The USGA has a business relationship with Buffalo Group, which owns and operates Morning Read. MR is the exclusive golf content partner of Sports Illustrated and an independent media outlet.
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Bob Harig is a golf writer for Morning Read/SI.com and the author of the book “Tiger and Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry,’’ which was published in April 2022 and can be ordered here.