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R&A CEO won’t ban LIV Players from British Open, but may tweak qualifying

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In a wide-ranging interview, Martin Slumbers discussed preserving the ‘pathways and meritocracy’ of pro golf, and why Greg Norman wasn’t at the 150th British Open.

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The CEO of the R&A made it clear in an interview with Golf Digest that LIV Golf players will not be banned from competing in the British Open next year at Royal Liverpool. Martin Slumbers said the qualification criteria would be announced early in the year, and it will be interesting to see if the qualifications change in any meaningful way that can impact existing players who are not otherwise exempt.

The Open is far less “Open” than it used to be. In recent years, it went to a qualification system that gives spots to the top finishers in various tournaments around the world, including several leading up to the tournament.

That means less spots for open qualifying, which is down to just 12 players at four locations played in the U.K.

Aside from exemptions given to major winners and those atop the Order of Merit at various worldwide tours, the Open uses the OWGR top 50 eight weeks prior to the championship. That’s in late May. By then, if LIV golfers are not earning ranking points, their ability to stay in the top 50 will have been greatly reduced.

“What we will do is ensure that there are appropriate pathways and ways to qualify,” Slumbers said in the interview. “I’m looking forward to (defending champion and LIV golfer) Cam Smith tee-up around 9:40 a.m. on the first day of The Open next year.

“The Open needs to set itself aside from what’s going on in terms of disagreements and make sure we stay true to our principle, which is to have the best players in the world competing.”

At St. Andrews in July, Slumbers made clear his dissatisfaction with LIV Golf after it had played two events.

“Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them,’’ Slumbers said. “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 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.”

Slumbers’ tone seemed to change some in the Golf Digest interview.

“To me, this is not about “them and us,’” he said. “I have no issue with the players. People play for a living. I note that Saudi Arabia wants to invest a lot of money in the game I love and care about. That’s a good thing.

“But I want to preserve the pathways and meritocracy on which our game is built. Sport without that isn’t sport. So I want to make sure we have the best players competing week in and week out. If the game is not played with high value and respect, I have no chance to grow the game. Maybe the consequence of where we are is that we only get to see all of the very best players together four times a year. So we’ll enjoy it four times a year.”

Slumbers also expanded on Greg Norman, the LIV Golf commissioner, who was asked not to attend ceremonies associated with the 150th playing of The Open—which Norman won twice.

“Greg has made comments about our decisions, which I’ve ignored,” Slumbers said. “It was clear to me that Greg had not been to a champion’s dinner in quite some time. He wasn’t there in 2000, 2005, 2010 or 2015. With everything that was going on, it was clear to me that there was a reason why he wanted to be there this year. If he had been there, it would have been about noise. The Open has to be distinct from all that. I didn’t want to have noise between two rival tours and two big personalities. It would have overshadowed what was happening that week.

“From my perspective, I had a deep responsibility to our sport. I wanted the 150th Open to be special and perfect. I didn’t want other issues going on around it, ones that would have undermined it in the eyes of the public. I was very polite and very deferential to Greg. I asked him to understand my perspective. And I did so privately. I did not make it public. I never said anything and never commented on it. That week was supposed to be about the first event in our game’s history reaching its 150th playing. On arguably the greatest course in the world. I was never going to lose focus on that.”

Source : Sports Illustrated

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