The application process for Official World Golf Ranking (“OWGR”) certification takes anywhere from one to two years. Additionally, a tour that applies for certification must meet certain mandatory criteria for a minimum of one year before the application is submitted. LIV officially applied for OWGR certification on July 6, 2022 – just three months ago – and less than one month after its first event.
Despite that timeline, LIV golfers are reportedly growing “agitated” that OWGR officials are “slow playing” their application. To that end, they have penned a group letter to the OWGR Governing Board asking for LIV to be included in the ranking system. Not only does the letter ask for the OWGR to certify LIV significantly faster than any other tour in history, but it also requests that the points be applied retroactively to past LIV events – a move that has no precedent. Even if the OWGR dramatically altered its processes and timeline to fast-track LIV’s application, there are significant hurdles that make certification unlikely considering some of OWGR’s compulsory elements. Those elements are discussed below.
OWGR Application Criteria
An embrace of inclusion and promoting non-discriminatory practices. Many people dismiss LIV’s ties to Saudi Arabia and its track record of human rights abuses when defending the insurgent tour, however, those ties may very well impact their OWGR application. Although it is far more likely that OWGR is referring to inclusion and non-discriminatory practices as it relates to the tour itself, it is not out of the question that the OWGR Governing Board considers the parent company and funding source of LIV golf.
Competitions contested over 72 holes, except for developmental tours, which are permitted to be 54-hole events. The name “LIV” did not fall out of the sky – it is the roman numeral representing the number 54, for its signature 54-hole event tournaments. Greg Norman’s primary pitch for LIV is that it is an alternative to the PGA that will allow golfers to make more money while playing less golf. LIV would have to completely reverse course on its business model – and likely change its name – in order to meet this criterion. Additionally, many golfers who believed they were signing up for 54-hole events will not be happy.
An open qualifying school held before the start of each season. LIV’s members are handpicked by Greg Norman. There are no qualifying schools or other criteria whereby a player can make it onto the LIV tour. Instead, they must have some kind of star power for LIV to choose them. See: Tiger Woods turning down $800 million to join LIV.
A field size on average of 75 players over the course of a season. Another major selling point of LIV golf is the limited size of the fields, which are just 48 players. This is far lower than the field average required by the OWGR. It is not out of the realm of possibility that LIV expands its field size to meet this criterion. Although Greg Norman has routinely spoken of the exclusivity of LIV being just 48 of the top players in the world, adding 30 more bodies seems a small price to pay for OWGR points.
A 36-hole cut, whether playing 54 or 72 holes. Yet another pillar of LIV’s business model is that everybody who plays makes money. Their tournaments have no cut, a stark contrast from the traditional 36-hole cut system found in the majority of PGA Tour and other tour events. For golfers who are not high on the annual money list, missing the cut on the PGA Tour can prove costly since their travel and lodging are not covered. This has been a major criticism of the PGA Tour, and two of the most significant changes recently unveiled aim to alleviate those costs. First, the Tour is adding a $5,000 stipend for each missed cut to non-exempt Tour members. Second, the Tour is implementing a $500,000 minimum salary for all exempt members that play at least 15 events (one less than the 14-event LIV schedule). Despite these changes, the no-cut format is understandably appealing for many golfers and it would make little sense for LIV to transition to a 36-hole cut, especially considering the small field sizes.
A clear opportunity to progress to a full member tour. LIV has positioned itself as the anti-member tour and this element is somewhat of a lost cause. Nobody who is playing on the LIV tour has goals of someday making the PGA Tour. They are on LIV because they have chosen to play a different type of golf. Many people point to LIV’s affiliation with the Asian Tour (an OWGR Member) as satisfying this element. However, golfers who sign up for LIV are not doing so because they want to play on the Asian Tour. In short, LIV is not a feeder for the Asian Tour.
Reasonable access for local and regional players (Monday qualifiers) at each event. As mentioned, the LIV field is set at 48 players who are handpicked by Greg Norman. There is no opportunity for Monday qualifiers or regional players to enter their exclusive fields. However, in July, LIV did announce plans to add relegation and a qualifying tournament to its format beginning in October 2023. The plan is essentially that the bottom 4 players over the course of the LIV season will be relegated (lose their tour card). In October, LIV will then host a tournament whereby four players will earn their way onto the full tour the following season. Although this change may satisfy the qualifying tournament element, it won’t be in place until at least October 2023. Since the OWGR explicitly states that elements must be in place for one year prior to submitting an application, the earliest that this move could pay off for LIV is October 2024.
A 10-event minimum schedule. At the time of its application, the LIV tour was scheduled for 8 events. Next year, they will be hosting 14 events. This is ironic since many golfers who defected cited that playing fewer tournaments than the PGA Tour’s 15-event minimum was the biggest draw for them (not the money, of course). Now, they’re required to play all 14 LIV events, and, if they are eligible to play in Majors, they will be playing close to 20 times next season. Regardless, although LIV could not satisfy the 10-event minimum at the time of its application, it will by next year.
The Bottom Line
Clearly, LIV faces some significant hurdles in gaining recognition from the OWGR. The most prominent one being that their application seems to be very premature since almost none of the mandatory criteria are met at this point and only a couple more will be met by next year. Additionally, it should be noted that the LIV golfers only want OWGR points to be able to qualify for Majors. However, the PGA Championship – one of golf’s four majors – has no OWGR-based eligibility. Even if LIV gains certification from the OWGR, there is nothing stopping the other three Majors from following suit. In short, the Majors hold the trump card.
Some golf commentators have inquired about whether LIV will simply adopt a four-round, 36-hole cut format or increase the field sizes to gain certification from the OWGR. However, from the very beginning, LIV has branded itself as different. Fewer rounds, no cut, more money, loud music.
For a tour that has done everything in its power to be anti-establishment, they are spending an awful lot of time, money, and effort to align itself with the Majors and OWGR. As Judge Beth Freeman stated in her opinion last month: “if LIV Golf is elite golf’s future, what do [LIV Golfers] care about the dust-collecting trophies of a bygone era?”
John Nucci is an Associate at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP in Rochester, NY and a graduate of Penn State Law. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JNucci23.