What are the legal ramifications of the Official World Golf Rankings still reviewing LIV Golf’s bid and sharing nothing with LIV or the Asian Tour, the technical bidder?
LIV, no longer an outsider in professional golf, is now focused on the small group in London who ultimately control the rankings and, if scrutinized dispassionately, world rankings are a bigger issue for LIV Golf as the PGA Tour’s antitrust issue, which is being tried in federal court in northern California.
Receiving world ranking points for its events means LIV Golf can compete on equal terms with other tours, which ultimately means more than if the PGA Tour is anti-competitive.
In an effort to force the issue, 50 LIV Golf players signed a letter Sept. 16 to OWGR President Peter Dawson asking the grading group to act more quickly on his candidacy.
While legal danger was not discussed or implied in the letter, LIV is more than willing to fund any legal action it deems necessary to establish its new tour in the golf ecosystem.
With the generation of the letter, finally, the discussions at LIV Golf have culminated in a serious debate over the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) and who and why ranking points are awarded.
A relatively obscure organization with a handful of staff based outside of London at the European Tour headquarters, the OWGR is a byproduct of IMG founder Mark McCormick dating back to the 1986 Masters.
Its initial aim, in conjunction with the R&A, was to create a vehicle for determining exemptions to the British Open.
Today, it’s the engine that runs nearly every aspect of professional golf, from who plays at the majors to sponsor and manufacturer bonus payments to players.
Its purpose, according to its website, is “to design, maintain, review, update, administer and promote the recognition of a system which fairly ranks the relative performance of professional male golfers participating in major golf tournaments throughout the world.”
Following this goal, the OWGR is the only accepted grading system in professional golf. And, like almost everything in professional golf, he’s also under siege.
In early July, the Asian Tour applied on behalf of LIV Golf to join the ranking body.
More than two months later, the OWGR has not provided a response to the request and LIV, who has moved quickly to establish a presence in professional golf, decided to write the letter to Dawson.
In superficial form, LIV suggests that the OWGR is “walking slow” in the application and suggests that the integrity of the rankings is at risk.
According to a source familiar with the operation of the OWGR, the application process is generally a one to two year process, where applications are systematically denied, without prejudice, and then resubmitted with changes to the applications, as directed by the order. of the OWGR.
Although most applications were eventually approved, some applications from smaller circuits and organizations were permanently denied by the OWGR.
The OWGR process is a process of little form or substance and mostly subjective in nature.
None of a submission’s criteria are described on its website and nothing about its process is provided to the public.
According to sources and even actors with knowledge of the OWGR process, fulfilling all the criteria is not necessary for possible entry into the OWGR.
Nor is one criterion more important than another.
Application of LIV Golf
When LIV Golf, through the Asian Tour, submitted its application in July, it defined 10 criteria:
1. A Tour must adopt non-discriminatory practices and not exclude any player based on nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation or political beliefs.
2. A tour’s application for membership in the OWGR must be nominated by one of the six full member tours of the International Federation of PGA Tours.
3. There must be a clearly structured opportunity for Tour players to progress to the nominating Full Member Tour, through the Tour’s availability of at least five annual play exemptions.
4. A circuit must hold an annual open qualifying school before the start of each season and/or an open pre-qualifying event for each tournament.
5. A circuit must have a players’ committee and appropriate rules and regulations for its members, including local rules and conditions of competition for all tournaments it sanctions.
6. A Round must be governed by the Rules of Golf as established by the R&A and the USGA and must comply with Article 5.2 of the Constitution of the International Golf Federation.
seven. Each Tournament on a Tour must be played over a scheduled minimum of 54 holes with a cut after 36 holes and/or in accordance with OWGR Eligible Formats.
8. Tournaments on a circuit must have an average of at least 75 players during each season.
9. A circuit must demonstrate that it has complied with the above guidelines for a period of at least one year immediately prior to being admitted into the OWGR system and must continue to comply with these guidelines after inclusion in the system OWGR.
ten. A visit that is included in the OWGR system will be subject to a probationary period of at least three years after its inclusion and will continue to be monitored and analyzed by OWGR after the end of this probationary period, of course.
According to sources, however, the criteria are guidelines only, subject to change at any time, and the decision to approve a visit to OWGR is at the sole discretion of the board. And this advice may not admit a tour although it fully meets the criteria.
On August 17, LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman told his players in a letter that LIV Golf’s bid had been reviewed by the OWGR Technical Committee at the Old Course during the British Open.
OWGR representatives would not confirm whether this review had taken place, nor would they confirm the next meeting of the Technical Committee which may further consider LIV Golf’s application.
Norman also pointed out that the strength of the field (SoF) for the first three events according to OWGR calculations exceeded the PGA Tour and DP World Tour events in the same week.
The LIV Golf Invitational London had a SoF of 96 and the DP World Tour Volvo Car Scandinavian Mixed the same week had a SoF of 18.
LIV Golf Invitational Portland had a SoF of 128 while the PGA Tour’s John Deere SoF was 53 and LIV Golf Bedminster was SoF 140. The DP World Tour’s Hero Open played the same week had a SoF of 17.
In the same letter, Norman argued that LIV Golf meets some of the most important criteria.
LIV Golf events having no cut after 36 holes. Many limited-field premier events on qualifying golf tours do not include cuts after 36 holes, including the PGA Tour Tour Championship, DP World Tour Championship, Championship Stroke Play events of Golf and the Hero World Challenge. Players participating in these events regularly receive OWGR points. For example, the Hero World Challenge in 2021, with a field of 20 players and no cups, provided 48 points to the winner on a SoF rating of 296. Similarly, the TOUR Championship 2021 had 29 players competing for four rounds with no cups. and received OWGR points.
Tournaments must average fields of at least 75 players. Between the LIV Golf Invitational Series and the International Series (which will be co-sanctioned between the Asian Tour and LIV Golf from 2023), LIV events will average 88 players, more than enough to meet this criteria.
A Tour must hold an annual qualifying school open before the start of each season. LIV Golf will host a LIV Promotions event, giving players the chance to win their spot. Different categories will be open to amateurs, professionals and players currently competing on other circuits as part of the OWGR.
There must be a structured opportunity for (at least five) Tour players to progress to the nominating Full Member Tour. Although LIV Golf will offer a playing spot to the winner of the International Series each season, it will also provide its top five players at the end of the season with a full Asian Tour map for the following season that meets this criteria.
As the OWGR works within its guidelines, the LIV Golf app will likely force the group to move faster than in the past.
Potential legal ramifications for the OWGR and funding for any potential legal issues must be paid for by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, as well as the lower extremity tours, which may force a faster review.
But even a negative answer can lead to a dispute, unless both parties reach a solution.
Of course, that’s putting the cart before the horse. The ball is in the OWGR Board’s court, and they will have to answer the question posed by LIV Golf’s player letter: “Fans deserve inclusive and accurate ratings.” Not including 48 of the best golfers in the world would mean fans would be denied what they deserve.