R&A CEO won’t ban LIV Players from British Open, but may tweak qualifying
In a wide-ranging interview, Martin Slumbers discussed preserving the ‘pathways and meritocracy’ of pro golf, and why Greg Norman wasn’t at the 150th British Open.
The CEO of the R&A made it clear in an interview with Golf Digest that LIV Golf players will not be banned from competing in the British Open next year at Royal Liverpool. Martin Slumbers stated that the qualification criteria would be announced in the early part of the year. It will be interesting to see how the qualifications change in any meaningful manner that could impact existing players who aren’t otherwise exempt.
The Open is far less “Open” than it used to be. It has been restructured to give spots to top finishers in tournaments around the globe, including many leading up to the tournament.
That means less spots for open qualifying, which is down to just 12 players at four locations played in the U.K.
Aside from exemptions given to major winners and those atop the Order of Merit at various worldwide tours, the Open uses the OWGR top 50 eight weeks prior to the championship. This is in May. By then, if LIV golfers are not earning ranking points, their ability to stay in the top 50 will have been greatly reduced.
“What we will do is ensure that there are appropriate pathways and ways to qualify,” Slumbers said in the interview. “I’m looking forward to (defending champion and LIV golfer) Cam Smith tee-up around 9: 40 a.m. on the first day of The Open next year.
“The Open needs to set itself aside from what’s going on in terms of disagreements and make sure we stay true to our principle, which is to have the best players in the world competing. “
At St. Andrews in July, Slumbers made clear his dissatisfaction with LIV Golf after it had played two events.
“Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them,” Slumbers said. “I have no problem with that at all.
“But, there is no free lunch. I believe that the Centurion and Pumpkin Ridge models are not in the long-term best interests of the sport. They are primarily driven by money. It undermines the spirit of open competition and merit-based culture that make golf so special.
“I would also like to say that in my opinion the continued commentary that this is about growing the game is just not credible and if anything, is harming the perception of our sport which we are working so hard to improve. “
Slumbers’ tone seemed to change some in the Golf Digest interview.
“To me, this is not about “them and us,'” he said. “I have no problem with the players. People play for a living. Saudi Arabia is keen to invest in the game that I love and care deeply about. It’s a great thing.
“But, I want to keep the pathways and meritocracy upon which our game is built. Sport without this isn’t sport. I want to ensure that we have the best players competing every week. If the game isn’t played with respect and high value, then I don’t have any chance of growing the game. We only see the best players together four times per year because of where we are. So we’ll enjoy it four times a year.”
Slumbers also expanded on Greg Norman, the LIV Golf commissioner, who was asked not to attend ceremonies associated with the 150th playing of The Open–which Norman won twice.
“Greg has made comments about our decisions, which I’ve ignored,” Slumbers said. “It was obvious to me that Greg hadn’t been to a champion’s dinner for quite some time. He wasn’t there in 2000, 2005, 2010 or 2015. It was obvious to me that he wanted to be there this time despite all the chaos. It would have been all about noise if he had not been there. The Open must be different from all of that. I didn’t want noise between two rival tours or two big personalities. It would have obscured the events of the week.
“From my perspective, I had a deep responsibility to our sport. I wanted the 150th Open to be special and perfect. I didn’t want any other issues to be raised around it, or ones that would have made it less attractive to the public. Greg was very respectful of my views and I was polite. I asked him to consider my point of view. I did it privately. It was not made public. I never said anything about it and I have never commented on it. That week was supposed to be about the first event in our game’s history reaching its 150th playing. It is arguably the most beautiful course in the world. I was never going to lose focus on that.”
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.