Major champions Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson have come up a simple solution to get around the corrupt actions of the Official World Golf Rankings.
In case you’re unaware, the OWGR is basically fighting a proxy war against the LIV Golf on behalf of the PGA Tour. Since its inception a year ago, the OWGR has refused to award ranking points to LIV Golf tournaments, despite fields that include 13 major champions, most of them recent winners. For instance, entering the 2023 season, LIV Golf players had won nearly half (13 of 27) of the majors contested since 2016. Further, from 2016 through 2020, they claimed 11 of 19 (or 58%).
Major champions include six-time winner Mickelson and two-time Masters champion Watson. Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is considered the greatest major competitor of his generation. Longtime world No.1 Dustin Johnson has won two majors as well. Cameron Smith joined LIV Golf after winning last year’s 150th Open at St Andrews. And so on.
A player’s world ranking position is the primary way for non-PGA Tour members to qualify for major championships.
The Masters, for example, offers invites to players in the top 50 of the OWGR in the previous calendar year, as well as the top 50 the week prior to the Masters. The Open Championship offers spots to top 50 OWGR players, while the U.S. Open to the top 60.
Back to the solution offered by Phil and Bubba: simply use the season-long performance list for each league or tour and provide exemptions to the top players.
“We have to come up with a qualifying mechanism that is inclusive, and if the World Golf Ranking isn’t going to be inclusive, then they have to find another way,” Mickelson said. “They’re going to have to find a way to get the best LIV players in their field if they want to have the best field in golf and be really what a major championship is about.”
Watson added, “Forget world ranking points. Just who is the best in your tour and our league and go from there. It’s simple math.
“Forget world ranking points about who plays at what tournament, this tournament is better than that tournament – no. Your tour, your league, call it a day and at those places play against each other four times a year.”
The two LIV Golf captains – Mickelson with HyFlyers GC; Watson with RangeGoats GC – made their comments on Wednesday while preparing for this week’s LIV Golf Singapore stop, the fifth (of 14) tournament of the 2023 LIV Golf League season.
At the Masters earlier this month, 18 LIV Golf players were in the field, with Mickelson and Koepka tying for second and Patrick Reed tying for fourth. The total number of players could be reduced by half for 2024 based on the current qualification criteria.
For the remaining three majors of 2023, only eight LIV golfers have confirmed spots for next month’s PGA Championship; just seven for the U.S. Open in June; and 11 for the Open Championship in July.
Mickelson, due to his victory at the 2021 PGA Championship at age 50, is one of five LIV golfers who are qualified to play in all four majors this season. The others are Smith (2022 Open), Bryson DeChambeau (2020 U.S. Open winner), Johnson (2020 Masters winner) and Brooks Koepka (2019 PGA Championship).
With no points being awarded to LIV Golf, players who were exempt for majors the last two years based on previous OWGR standing and other criteria will most likely fall outside the qualification parameters in upcoming years if the system is not adjusted.
For instance, Talor Gooch won the world’s biggest pro golf event of the week (LIV Golf Adelaide) and fell two spots in the world rankings.
“I think that they need to come to a resolution, or it will become obsolete,” said DeChambeau. “It’s pretty much obsolete as of right now. But again, if the majors and everything continue to have that as their ranking system, then they are biting it quite heavily.”
“If you’re saying these tournaments are the best in the world, you’ve got to have the best there,” said Watson. “To keep them out or to make them lose world ranking points is not the right way to go.
“I’ve said it, and I’m going to say it again – I believe we’ve just got to focus on the tours and our league, and the top players.”
LIV Golf has a season-long individual ranking system that awards the top 24 players in each regular-season tournament with a weighted number of points based on their result. Through the first four events this season, 4Aces member Peter Uihlein leads the points race as the only player with top-10 finishes in each tournament. Crushers GC’s Charles Howell III, the winner of the season opener in Mayakoba, is second; Talor Gooch, last week’s winner in Adelaide, ranks third.
None are exempt for the 2023 PGA Championship.
Other tours have similar points standings, including the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, the PGA Tour’s FedExCup and the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Mickelson is confident a solution will eventually be reached that will provide the majors with the best fields in golf.
“If you’re one of the majors, if you’re the Masters, you’re not looking at, ‘We should keep these guys out,’” Mickelson said. “You’re saying to yourself, ‘We want to have the best field, we want to have the best players, and these guys added a lot to the tournament this year at the Masters. How do we get them included?’
“If the World Golf Rankings doesn’t find a way to be inclusive, then the majors will just find another way to include LIV because it’s no longer a credible way. So it will all iron itself out for the simple reason that it’s in the best interest of everybody, especially the tournaments, the majors, to have the best players.”
Credit: LIV Golf Media, Getty Images