Column: Getting Into Majors Tough For LIV Golfers, Olympics Even Harder

Eighteen players from LIV Golf competed in the Masters, a number that already has been cut in half for next year. Only past Masters champions and recent major champions are currently eligible. Everyone else is well out of the top 50 in the world.

It figures to be like that at the other majors, too. When the Official World Golf Ranking committee rejected LIV’s application, it made it tough for the league’s players to get into the majors.

Overlooked in the reaction to the OWGR’s decision was another major event. It’s going to be even tougher for LIV players to get into the Olympics next year in Paris.

The Olympic Golf Ranking for the 2024 Games began June 13, 2022, two days after LIV Golf finished its inaugural event outside London.

LIV players can argue with anyone willing to listen that the world ranking no longer has credibility without them. They can plead with the four majors to create a pathway for their top players to get into their championships.

But there’s no turning back the clock on the Olympic ranking, which already is 16 months into a two-year system that long ago was approved by the International Olympic Committee.

The 60-man field at Kasumigaseki Country Club outside Tokyo had 11 players who since have signed up for Saudi cash that LIV Golf provides. That includes Sebastian Munoz of Colombia and Paul Casey of England, both of whom lost in a seven-way playoff for the bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

“The golfers that passed on it, I’ve got no words for them,” Casey said that day. “All I would say is that I think representing your country is the greatest thing can you do.”

That’s what they gave up by joining LIV, and maybe they’re OK with that. Golf returned to the Olympics in 2016 after a 112-year absence, though both editions in Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo offered enough evidence that golf is a good fit for the games.

Players who skipped Rio out of fear (the Zika virus) or apathy swore they wouldn’t miss it again. “I’ve never tried so hard in my life to finish third,” said Rory McIlroy, one of the Olympic converts, after missing out in the playoff for the bronze.

Some won’t even get that choice.

The 60-man field is taken straight from the June 17, 2024, world ranking — a maximum of two players from each country, or four players if all are within the top 15.

With just under five months to go, eight players from LIV are currently among the top 60 in the Olympic Golf Ranking — Cameron Smith of Australia, Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira of Chile, Abraham Ancer of Mexico, Thomas Pieters of Belgium, Anirban Lahiri of India, Scott Vincent of Zimbabwe and Munoz.

“We’re not playing for any money, but I mean, a medal for your country … it’s just so cool,” Ancer said after he finished three shots out of the bronze medal playoff in Japan. “I can’t wait to be back.”

Ancer might get his wish. Even though he is on the verge of falling out of the top 100 (he was No. 24 when he signed with LIV), Ancer and Pereira would be projected to stay in the top 60 of the Olympic ranking by June if no one received any ranking points.

Of course, there are five months and three majors before that’s decided.

Smith currently is No. 12 in the Olympic ranking (No. 19 in the world) and is among the top players regardless of which circuit he plays. Along with those three majors, Smith is playing the Hong Kong Open and has the Australian PGA and Australian Open still to come.

He also has to concern himself with Cam Davis (No. 42 in the world), who will have access to 11 “signature events” on the PGA Tour, all with big ranking points. Min Woo Lee is right behind Davis and will have a PGA Tour card next year.

Smith is among 13 regular LIV players who are in the Hong Kong Open in two weeks on the Asian Tour, and other Asian Tour events could at least provide some ranking points. Every bit will help in trying to hold down Olympic spots.

Still to be decided is access to the majors. Bryson DeChambeau believes the majors should take the leading 12 players from LIV, which is 25% of a league that probably has a dozen players past their prime and another dozen who might never reach it.

Worth noting is that leaders from the four majors were the only ones on the OWGR committee who voted not to award LIV ranking points.

The U.S. Open and British Open still have qualifying — four LIV players made it to the U.S. Open, three to Royal Liverpool. The PGA of America leans on the top 100 without actually putting such criteria in writing, though it has said it will continue to look at other tours.

The Masters is interesting. It has a special invitation — awarded only three times over the last 10 years — traditionally reserved for international players. It’s not about TV interest, but rather players who don’t have as many avenues to qualify as PGA Tour players.

Maybe that applies to Talor Gooch. Then again, maybe Augusta National isn’t sure how to measure Gooch’s success when he’s playing against the same 48-man field every week with several players who probably wouldn’t be in the top 50 even if they did get ranking points.

As for the Olympics, there’s only one way: Play hard on the rare occasion performance matters.