The R&A has become the first of golf’s governing bodies to speak out strongly against the LIV Series, with the chief executive, Martin Slumbers, using media duties on the eve of the 150th Open Championship to brand the rebel tour as “not in the best long-term interests of the sport”. Slumbers inferred it will become difficult for LIV participants to qualify for future stagings of the world’s oldest major.
LIV themes have dominated the Open buildup after Greg Norman, who fronts the Saudi Arabia-backed tour, was not invited to past champion events at St Andrews. Phil Mickelson, a high-profile LIV convert, was another notable absentee.
After Tiger Woods spoke out vehemently against the LIV concept on Tuesday, Slumbers has now followed suit. “I firmly believe that the existing golf ecosystem has successfully provided stable pathways for golfers to enter the sport and develop and realise their full potential,” Slumbers said.
“Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them. 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 [for LIV tournaments] 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 and, if anything, is harming the perception of our sport which we are working so hard to improve.”
On this event itself, Slumbers added: “Looking ahead to the Open next year, we have been asked quite frequently about banning players. 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.”
World ranking status is intrinsically linked to Open qualification. Slumbers sits on the board of the Official World Golf Rankings, which met this week in St Andrews to discuss LIV’s application to gain standing. The OWGR’s technical committee also held talks on the same subject. The likelihood is that LIV faces a long wait before being afforded OWGR points, if at all. Slumbers refused to offer comment on that topic. “That question will need to be addressed to the chairman of the OWGR,” he said.
The chief executive did, however, defend the move to exclude Norman from a past champions four-hole challenge and dinner. At the latter, Rory McIlroy and Woods were made honorary members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. Both have been staunch in their opposition to LIV.
“This is a very important week for golf,” Slumbers added. “This is the oldest championship. It’s the original championship. We are absolutely determined to ensure that this goes down in history as about the 150th Open. We decided, 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. We wanted to ensure that the conversation was all about this week and playing golf and balls in the air tomorrow and the champion golfer on Sunday.
“Greg hasn’t been here since 2010. He didn’t come in 2015. In fact, it’s many years since he’s even been to the Open. So there would have been another reason for that. So it was very clear to protect the integrity of this week.”