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US Open admit Mickelson and other ‘rebels’

Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson are welcome to play the US Open next week under a USGA decision that put the open nature of the championship ahead of a player’s decision to play in a Saudi-funded rival league.

Mickelson and Johnson are among a dozen ‘rebel’ players in the LIV Golf Invitational this week who are exempt for the US Open on June 16-19 at Brookline, near Boston. Both have said they plan to play the third major of the year.

Among other US Open players who signed up for the new league are Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Kevin Na.

“Regarding players who may choose to play in London this week, we simply asked ourselves this question — should a player who had earned his way into the 2022 U.S. Open, via our published field criteria, be pulled out of the field as a result of his decision to play in another event? And we ultimately decided that they should not,” the USGA said on Tuesday.

That the US Open chose not to deny entry was not surprising. The second-oldest championship in golf takes pride in the open nature of its 156-man field. None of the other four majors has criteria in place that forces roughly 50% of the field to go through 36-hole qualifying.

“It’s one of the things that separates our Open from everybody else. And if you don’t believe that, watch what happened yesterday,” Mike Whan, the CEO of the USGA, said.

He was referring to 36-hole qualifiers for 49 spots that were held in eight American cities and one in Canada. Three others were held previously in Texas, Japan and England.

Criticism of the new league headed by Greg Norman starts with the primary source of funding, the sovereign wealth fund in Saudi Arabia, a country with an abysmal record on human rights, most notably the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“I realise people have strong points of view and think perhaps there should be some morality clause,” Whan said. “As I said to our team last night, with more than 9,300 entrants for the US Open, if we decide what’s on their sleeve or their bag or what tour they’re playing, what we think is OK and not OK, I’m not sure that circle ever stops.

“We don’t track personal beliefs and who funds them,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t care.”

Whether criteria changes for the 2023 US Open and beyond is to be determined.

“What this thing is now is different than it was four months ago and what it will be eight months from now,” Whan said. “It’s a bit of a moving target. It would be inconsistent of us to decide now what next year’s criteria looks like.”

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