BROOKLINE, Mass. — When PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan took his hard-line stance against the players who signed on to play with the LIV Golf Invitational Series and suspended them from competing in PGA Tour events, everyone waited to see what the next move was going to be in the golf world.
Everyone waited to see last week what the USGA was going to do, with the U.S. Open next up on the calendar.
Would the USGA not welcome the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and other prominent players into the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday at The Country Club?
The answer was no. After Monahan and the PGA Tour announced its suspensions, the USGA did nothing to alter its plan and didn’t follow suit. They welcomed all players who had qualified into its field — including Mickelson and Johnson, a past champion.
Herein lies the linchpin for Monahan and the PGA Tour: If the governing bodies of the major championships aren’t going to align themselves with the PGA Tour and ban the players involved with the LIV tour, Monahan may have some big problems.
Because if the players aligned with LIV Golf are not going to eligible to play in the major championships, that could be a deal-breaker for players jumping to the LIV tour.
If they are allowed to play, the PGA Tour suspensions — even if they hold up in court should players sue (which is expected) — will have a lot of starch taken out of them.
The powers that be at Augusta National, who’ve been conspicuous by their silence, don’t really face much urgency to respond to LIV because the next Masters isn’t until April 2023.
Nor do the powers at the PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup, because the next PGA isn’t until May 2023 and the Ryder Cup won’t be contested until September 2023.
After this U.S. Open, the next major will be the British Open in July. Will we hear from the governing body of the Royal & Ancient banning players?
On Wednesday, the eve of the 122th U.S. Open, USGA CEO Mike Whan was noncommittal about what the organization might do in the future about the LIV competitors, but reading between the lines, it didn’t sound like he has plans to ban them.
“We definitely feel responsibility to this game, and we feel a responsibility to the competitors that play it,’’ Whan said. “We did sit down and have a long conversation about a week before the U.S. Open, [asking,] ‘Did where somebody else played and what promoter they played it with, disqualify them for this event?’ We decided no on that, with all the awareness that not everyone would agree with that decision.
“Whether we all like it or not, in February, 30 guys played for the same promoter in Saudi Arabia [at the Saudi International] with an acceptable release from the PGA Tour, and for years the DP World Tour [formerly known as the European Tour] had an event there, same promoter.
“I’m sure there are players that both came through our qualifying and maybe teeing it up that are sponsored by those different [sponsors]. So we asked ourselves the question of one, 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 attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open]. … It becomes a pretty slippery slope to try to apply that across 9,300 people.’’
Whan is close with Monahan.
“Jay and I are friends,’’ he said. “I was at the Memorial and actually he brought me in to talk about distance [issues in the game]. We actually didn’t talk about this [LIV]. At the end of the day, we do a lot of things together.’’
But apparently they don’t suspend players together.
“Somebody asked me the other morning, ‘Have you talked to Martin Slumbers [CEO of the R&A]?’ ’’ Whan said. “I talk to Martin Slumbers all the time. We don’t talk about our field criteria. We all run championships. They’re all different in how we run those championships.’’
This might not be good news for the PGA Tour.