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At last week's Women's Open the United States Golf Association (USGA) issued a statement not related to the conduct of that championship but tied to the ongoing spat between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf Invitation Series. The former has been the dominant organization showcasing the highest competitions in professional golf stretching back over 50 years. The latter is an upstart funded through the deepest of pockets -- the government of Saudi Arabia.
The USGA statement outlined how the association "prides themselves on the openness of their tournament (U.S. Open) but they (USGA) will decide on a "case by case" basis those permitted to play in the competition.
The statement from the USGA followed last week's announcement for the first wave of players opting to join LIV with the first event taking place June 9-11 in London at Centurion Club.
The most notable player announced was Dustin Johnson -- a two-time major championship winner and ranked 15th in the world. Others named included Martin Kaymer, Serio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Graeme McDowell. Each of the aforementioned have won at least one major event. The list also included Lee Westwood and 30-year-old Talor Gooch.
In addition, to the aforementioned, the reappearance of six-time major winner Phil Mickelson will also happen with the event in London. This marks Mickelson's first competitive appearance since February. It was Mickelson who made disparaging comments about the operations of the PGA Tour and then quickly denounced the actions of the leadership of Saudi Arabia in terms of the human rights atrocities committed. He then provided an apology and mentioned the need to become a better person. In recent days, Mickelson also mentioned having a serious gambling problem.
While the ongoing tussle between the PGA Tour and LIV is only intensifying -- there are also certain realities both face. The four major championships in golf are not under the auspices of either. The USGA just happened to be in the line of fire because of the calendar with the USGA's flagship event taking place next week (June 16-19) at The Country Club near Boston.
The entire text of the USGA statement is below --
The USGA opted to punt -- using the American football term. Simply because of circumstances and the timing of the USGA's flagship event coinciding nearest to the goings on with what LIV is doing.
The real onus falls on Jay Monahan, Commissioner of the PGA Tour. It was Monahan who stated emphatically in several instances that PGA Tour players opting for the greener pastures of LIV -- no pun intended -- subject themselves to banishment from the PGA Tour.
Is Monahan prepared to do what he has said? That remains to be seen. But waiting has clear risks as PGA Tour players are monitoring the situation closely. Bryson DeChambeau announced Wednesday he will be in the field for the second LIV event in Portland in late July. There's also a timing issue. With the U.S. Open next week it is unlikely Monahan would provide detailed comments that would only serve to distract attention from the second oldest major championship.
The situation with the players is also rather fluid.
Interesting that Dustin Johnson opted to undercut any "firing" from the PGA Tour -- by announcing his resignation from it. That move is purely semantics and meant to be used for what likely will be forthcoming future legal proceedings. The trip wire will be when one of the LIV players opts to play a PGA Tour event and is denied entry. That could happen as soon as the Traveler's event played in Hartford the week after the U.S. Open.
The USGA's final paragraph bears scrutiny. In short, the USGA opted to state it is not taking sides in the battle between the PGA Tour and LIV. However, just as quickly -- the statement says that players opting to compete in an alternative event without consent of their home tour-- in this case the PGA Tour -- does not rate as an offense that disqualifies them from playing for the national championship of American golf if already qualified to do so. In short, the USGA is not going to be pushed into disqualifying players who qualify for their key event no matter what tour they play. I am sure this went over well with the Tour leadership in Ponte Vedra.
On the flip side, to be fair, if the USGA opted to disqualify such exempt players like Johnson and Phil Mickelson, the resulting fallout could have meant a quick legal action by those players seeking to play. The last thing the USGA would want prior to its marquee event is the distraction caused by such back and forth proceedings.
Given the USGA position it seems likely the R&A will follow suit when the 150th Open Championship is played in mid-July at the Old Course at St. Andrews. What will be curious to see is how Fred Ridley as chairman of Augusta National will respond next spring and what CEO of the PGA of America Seth Waugh will do -- not only with the PGA Championship but eligibility for the Ryder Cup matches planned for Italy in '23. Waugh was quite explicit -- players from the PGA Tour who head to LIV will no longer be members of the PGA of America and therefore will not be part of any such team. Although the PGA of America has stated it is "inappropriate and premature" to talk about the future.
But the USGA's stated desire in not denouncing LIV or the players associated with it -- can be construed by many as showing a blind eye and indifference to where the money supporting LIV comes from. The Saudis are clearly using the promotion of sports as a way to endear themselves to a broader global audience. The phrase "sports washing" is quite apt. Human rights abuses have happened and continue to happen in the Kingdom. Most notably the dismembering of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the mass execution of 81 that happened this past March. While the USGA wishes to provide distance from LIV and the players associated with it -- the mere fact that LIV players will compete at The Country Club next week such as Johnson, Mickelson, Kevin Na and Lee Westwood are competing allows that "washing" to be legitimized.
Mike Whan, the CEO for the USGA, stated on Golf Channel the position of the USGA could well change for the '23 Championship in terms of player admission to the event and he added the current situation "is a moving target." Whan was quite clear in keeping options available to the USGA and "want to see what it (LIV) becomes."
Whoever said golf is boring has not been paying attention.
The role the major championships play and what allowances they opt to provide players could well determine the success of the new LIV Tour.
More to follow in the days ahead.