Royal & Ancient CEO Martin Slumbers has blasted the rebel LIV Golf Series as a disruptive money driven enterprise not in the best interest of the sport, prompting the governing body to examine how players qualify for future British Opens.
With The Open’s 150th anniversary party in full swing Slumber’s interrupted the celebrations to deliver a blistering rebuke of the Saudi-backed venture run by Greg Norman that is threatening to tear apart the sport.
Bank-rolled to the tune of $US250 million by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) the LIV Series with its 54-hole format, no cuts and a team element bolted on, has branded itself the exciting new era in golf.
But Slumber’s viewed such boasts as a sham and damaging to a golf ecosystem that, “has successfully provided stable pathways for golfers to enter the sport and develop and realise their full potential”.
“Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them,” Slumbers told reporters. “I have absolutely no issue with that at all.
“But there is no such thing as a free lunch.
“I believe the model we’ve seen at Centurion and Pumpkin Ridge is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money.
“We believe it undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes 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.”
With limited 48 player fields many prominent names including major winners Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson Dechambeau and Brooks Koepka have been lured to the LIV Series by super-sized prize money and massive appearance contracts.
Mickelson, it has been reported, was paid $US200 million to sign on while winners of the opening two events at the Centurion and Pumpkin Ridge pocketed $US4 million.
Tiger Woods also questioned LIV’s credibility comparing it on Tuesday to the senior Champions Tour.
“What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practise?,” questioned Woods. “What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt?”
The US and European based PGA and DP Tours have responded to the LIV insurgence by banning any player jumping to the Series but the majors have so far allowed anyone who has qualified to continue to compete in golf’s most prestigious events.
Slumbers said the R&A has no immediate plans to ban any player but made it clear they will be reviewing their qualifying criteria without revealing what those might be.
“Looking ahead to The Open next year, we have been asked quite frequently about banning players,” said Slumbers. “Let me be very clear. That’s not on our agenda.
“But what is on our agenda is that we will review our exemptions and qualifications criteria for The Open.
“And whilst we do that every year, we absolutely reserve the right to make changes as our Open Championships Committee deems appropriate.
“Players have to earn their place in The Open, and that is fundamental to its ethos and its unique global appeal.”
As for the prospect of presenting one of the 24 LIV players in the field with the Claret Jug on Sunday, Slumbers added: “Whoever wins on Sunday is going to have their name carved in history and I’ll welcome them on to the 18th green.
“This is a golf tournament. The Open is about having the best players in the world playing, and I want to see who shoots the lowest score come Sunday night.”