Furious Over LIV Golf, British Open Could Change Entry Rules

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The organizer of the British Open — openly contemptuous, frustrated and bewildered over the emergence of the Saudi Arabia-backed series that has split golf — issued a warning on Wednesday: One of the world’s most hallowed tournaments might soon change its entry rules.

A move by the R&A, the Open organizer, could complicate the claret jug ambitions of some of the world’s elite players well into the future. And if other major tournaments take similar action, as two have already suggested they might, players could be forced to pick between millions in guaranteed money or the possibility of playing for their sport’s most historically cherished honors.

“Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them,” Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, said at a news conference at St. Andrews on Wednesday, the eve of the Open’s start on the Old Course. “I have absolutely no issue with that at all. But there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Slumbers went on to condemn the new series, LIV Golf, as “not in the best long-term interests of the sport” and “entirely driven by money.” He appeared to rule out a wholesale ban of players who have aligned themselves with LIV, including Sergio García, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed, but he said that Open officials would “review our exemptions and qualifications criteria” and perhaps make changes that could take effect as soon as next year.

The R&A’s resistance was not a surprise: Over the weekend, it acknowledged that it had not invited Greg Norman, the LIV chief executive, who won the Open twice, to this year’s festivities at St. Andrews. A change to the criteria that govern the Open’s 156-man field, though, could have significant long-term repercussions for the sport and its hierarchy.

As other tournaments do, the R&A publishes a lengthy roster of ways for players to qualify for the Open, which will be held next year at Royal Liverpool. This year, for example, the options included a place in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking on a certain date. John Daly is playing at St. Andrews this week because he won an Open and is 60 or under, and Aaron Jarvis is in the field as the year’s Latin America amateur champion.

But the R&A has the authority to write its own rules.

Without a sweeping maneuver to block LIV players from the Open, the R&A is likely to have at least a selection in the tournament for years to come, if the series survives. A change, though, could narrow their number and perhaps weigh on younger players who do not have major-championship wins to their names and are choosing between LIV and more traditional paths.

“I never said the best golfers will not be able to play,” Slumbers said. “We will hold totally true to the Open being open to anybody. But we may well look at how you get into that.”

Golf executives in the United States, where the season’s other three majors are contested, have also been contemplating whether or how to rework their entry standards.

The P.G.A. of America, which is in charge of the P.G.A. Championship, has signaled its disdain for the LIV series, which just recently started to stage 54-hole, no-cut tournaments with shotgun starts. In June, the chief executive of the United States Golf Association, which controls the U.S. Open, said that the group would “re-evaluate” the criteria it uses to set that tournament’s roster.

Augusta National Golf Club, which administers the invitation-only Masters Tournament, has so far remained silent about its intentions.

The group that oversees the Official World Golf Ranking system, which factors in results from nearly two dozen tours worldwide, could do much to settle the debate, or at least drive it in one direction or another. On Tuesday, it said that LIV Golf, which draws much of its financing from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, had asked this month for “inclusion” and that it was beginning to review the application. It did not say when it expected that process to conclude.

Although some of golf’s most prominent figures have defected from the PGA Tour, which has drawn Justice Department scrutiny for its efforts to keep its membership intact, to LIV, the longstanding order has maintained a deep well of public support from top players. Tiger Woods used part of a news conference on Tuesday to denounce LIV, and he joined Rory McIlroy, another Open winner, in endorsing the decision to banish Norman from St. Andrews this week.

Norman has attacked the R&A’s move as “petty.” On Wednesday, when the R&A welcomed Princess Anne to the Old Course, Slumbers said the choice was made “to protect the integrity of the week.”

“We are absolutely determined to ensure that this goes down in history as about the 150th Open,” he said. “We decided that there would be, based on noise that I was receiving from multiple sources, that that was going to be potentially unlikely. We decided that we didn’t want the distraction.”

Of course, there is always the possibility that a LIV golfer will win on Sunday.

“I’ll welcome them onto the 18th green,” Slumbers said. “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.”

He did not directly answer the reporter’s inquiry: whether that outcome would be the stuff of R&A nightmares.

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