PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Joaquin Niemann was among players who risked being shut out of the majors when he chose to sign for Saudi money at LIV Golf, and that remains mostly true.
Niemann, a 25-year-old from Chile, won his first LIV event last week at Mayakoba in the dark against close friend Sergio Garcia. The LIV broadcast crew didn’t waste any time taking the conversation to the majors, asking Niemann if he felt the win would get their attention.
“I want to win majors, but I’ve got to get in first,” he said.
Niemann faced the prospect of no majors in 2024 (unless he qualified for the two Opens). But he won the Australian Open in December, which is co-sanctioned by the European tour and part of the International Final Qualifying series, to earn a spot in the British Open.
He is No. 74 in the Official World Golf Ranking without any tournaments on the schedule where a win can put him into the top 50 and earn a bid to the Masters. If he stays in the top 100 by the end of April, he should expect a spot in the PGA Championship.
LIV currently has seven players in the top 100 — four of them new to the Saudi-funded league this year — and opportunities will be dwindling. This was always the choice — giving up the chance to play in majors to take money they never imagined.
Talor Gooch won three times on LIV last year but was not a factor in any of his OWGR-counting events (he missed the cut in two majors). He is No. 394 in the world and likely would be shut out of the majors.
Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s chief championships officer, said in an interview last year he would consider all tours. That’s still to be determined. Augusta National has yet to announce if it will award any special invitations. Those typically are restricted to international players who are not PGA Tour members, because a PGA Tour member would have ample opportunity to earn an invitation.
Could a LIV player fall under that category? If not this year, that would be an indication to LIV players that getting into the majors might be more difficult than winning a playoff in the dark.
As for Niemann, the idea of missing the majors motivated him.
“I have a different mindset for this year,” he said. “It kind of hurt me a little bit not being in the majors and I think also helped me to get motivation to kind of earn my spot back into the majors, into the elite players. I think it helped me a little bit to get focus back, to start working harder, to start working with a purpose.”
60 WITH AN ASTERISK?
Perhaps there should be an asterisk next to Wyndham Clark at Pebble Beach, and not because he was awarded the victory over 54 holes when the final round was canceled.
Clark set the course record with a 60 on Saturday on a course with a mud base because of so much rain that allowed for ball in hand — players could lift, clean and place the golf ball in the short grass. Is that still a record?
This is where the PGA Tour and the European tour differ. Europe doesn’t count “improved lies” as official records and the PGA Tour does. Al Geiberger was playing under such conditions when he had the first 59 in golf history, as did Paul Goydos in 2010 at the John Deere Classic.
This week, there was no other option. Conditions were so soggy that a dozen players lost balls (one in the fairway) when they plugged completely under the turf.
Clark got one break on the 16th. He was given a free drop because his ball was near the remnants of a burrowing hole, but that gave him a good lie in the rough. Clark was able to fly the ball all the way to pin in the back — from the fairway, it likely would have spun back some 20 feet or more. No matter. He missed the birdie putt by an inch.
As for his take on his record?
“Anytime there’s preferred lies, it’s not golf at its purest,” Clark said. “But the golf course was so saturated, there was no other way to play golf this week other than doing preferred lies. With that said, any winner on the PGA Tour, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting preferred lies from everywhere or if you’re teeing the ball up from the middle of the fairway.
“It’s still the best players in the world playing against each other on the same golf course in the same conditions and it’s hard.”
WALKING THE TALK
Camilo Villegas is more frustrated by the lack of information than anything else concerning PGA Tour business with Saudi Arabia and private investors. He considers himself one who is slow to criticize until he has all the facts.
“To be honest, I would need to know more behind the scenes,” he said during the season opener at Kapalua. “I have never been on the PAC (Player Advisory Council). I’ve never been on the board. Maybe that’s something I should do.”
Two weeks later, Villegas was among 16 players appointed to the PAC. And now he’s up for election to be the PAC chair along with Kevin Streelman. The winner of that election goes on the PGA Tour board the following year.
The Epson Tour will start awarding LPGA cards to its leading 15 players next year.
Currently, the top 10 on the development circuit earn LPGA cards for the following year. The next five also will get starts, though they will be in a lower priority ranking.
The top 25 players and ties from the LPGA’s Q-Series qualifying tournament will get cards. They will be followed on the priority list by the additional five players from the Epson Tour (Nos. 11-15 on the points list), who will be blended in with players who finished Nos. 101-125 on the Race to CME Globe.
LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said the change is to reward the performance over a full season in addition to giving rising talent a chance to compete for LPGA status.
The Epson Tour first offered five cards in 1999 and bumped that to 10 players in 2007.
Two weeks after Alabama sophomore Nick Dunlap won The American Express, he made his pro debut at Pebble Beach and finished last to earn $32,000. Caleb Surratt made his pro debut at LIV Golf. He tied for 13th against a 54-man field and made $330,000. … Four of the last five 54-hole winners at Pebble Beach were former U.S. Open champions. The other was six-time major winner Phil Mickelson. … Jessica Korda took to Instagram to announce the birth of her son. Greyson John DelPrete was born on Feb. 3. … FedEx Corp. will become title sponsor of the French Open, to be played in October this year at Le Golf National, two months after the Olympics. Officials attributed the deal to the PGA Tour and European tour’s alliance. … The Aramco Saudi Ladies International next week is offering a $5 million purse, the same as the men’s Saudi International and the largest purse for the Ladies European Tour.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Ludvig Aberg was No. 914 in the world ranking when he made his pro debut at the Canadian Open last June. After 18 tournaments (two wins), he is No. 11.
“I really hope that this deal brings about change that really makes it better for the fans because I think they’ve suffered a lot over the last couple years.” — Patrick Cantlay on Strategic Sports Group’s $3 billion investment in PGA Tour Enterprises.