Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Lynch: Sixteen LIV guys are playing at the PGA Championship. But only 15 deserve to be here

By admin May18,2024

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Major championship fields are perennially fertile, at least when it comes to fodder for debate. The Masters is criticized for having too few competitors, and for being oversubscribed with the aged and amateurs. The two Opens get knocked for being, well, too open, as guys with respectable rankings are forced to enter qualifying to earn a berth. The PGA Championship takes its licks for having 20 club professionals among the starters. Since recent debate over field composition has focused on who is absent — some LIV players — the PGA of America has flipped the conversation by inviting a player whose presence is at best dubious.

Eligibility criteria for the PGA Championship include a provision allowing invitations to players not otherwise exempt. Traditionally that category has been used to admit players within the top 100 in the world ranking. This year, however, it is being used as a back door means to indulge the entitlement of LIV’s most vocal gripe.

Since LIV opted not to meet the standards for world ranking points — the most accessible path into majors — its players have taken to routinely denouncing the ranking as unfit for purpose, and have repeatedly suggested that majors are diminished (or even co-conspirators) by not carving out an alternative direct path for them. Sixteen LIV golfers are in the field at Valhalla, and even vehement critics would have to concede that most are justified in being invited.

Most. But not all.

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About half of LIV’s contingent is covered by long-established criteria (recent wins, past glories) rather than by dint of invitation, including Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Martin Kaymer. Tyrrell Hatton is still No. 18 in the world ranking, Adrian Meronk 65th, Lucas Herbert 90th and Patrick Reed 93rd (close enough to the top 100 line that he might want to start plotting a litigation strategy for 2025). Some lesser-knowns are deserving if one brushes the surface of recent performances. Dean Burmester won twice on the DP World Tour late last year, including the South African Open. Joaquin Niemann won the Australian Open. Andy Ogletree and David Puig have notched wins on the Asian Tour.

That’s 15 of 16. Which leaves Talor Gooch as the asterisk.

Talor GoochTalor Gooch

Talor Gooch smiles on the 11th hole during a practice round prior to the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on May 15, 2023, in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“We have the most flexibility of any of the majors,” said Seth Waugh, the PGA of America’s CEO when addressing a question about Gooch’s presence without actually mentioning Gooch’s presence. “We have the ability to kind of lean in and really pick the best field in golf, and that’s never been, frankly, more important than it is right now.”

“It’s going to be a bit more of an art form than a math problem,” he added.

Membership of the LIV tour is not a barrier to playing in a major championship. Those who compete elsewhere and demonstrate form are acknowledged. Witness Niemann receiving a Masters invitation. Playing only LIV events and making no effort to meet any championship qualification criteria should be a barrier. Yet the PGA of America chose instead to reward that.

Gooch is 668th in the world ranking. He has entered only two tournaments outside LIV since the Open last July and he withdrew from one of them. He declared that a Rory McIlroy victory at the Masters would have had an asterisk because worthy LIV guys (presumably himself) weren’t there. More recently, he said he would not enter qualifying for the U.S Open. Gooch the mooch isn’t interested in earning a spot in majors. He just thinks he’s entitled to it. And the PGA Championship gave it to him.

So why?

Always alert for an opportunity to distinguish itself from the other majors — and increasingly now from top-tier Tour events — the PGA Championship is perhaps signaling its future as being the first to create a pathway for LIV. Gooch is here because he topped that circuit’s points list in 2023. The only member of the top 5 on LIV’s ’24 list not here is Louis Oosthuizen. He was also invited but declined.

Gooch being gifted a tee time at Valhalla is also a warning shot at the PGA Tour. Having stood with the Tour through the maelstrom, the PGA of America is weary and eager to see a resolution. Waugh said the division has an economic impact and that the professional game isn’t healthy. Left unsaid was the obvious threat: if a deal doesn’t sort this out, the PGA Championship will formally admit LIV members, thereby removing a key reason why others might hesitate to jump to the Saudi league.

If LIV guys meet the criteria for majors, there’s no valid basis for excluding them. If their case is borderline, LIV status shouldn’t count as a strike against. But rewriting that criteria to accommodate players who refuse to make an effort to comply with requirements — or wordsmithing cute carveouts — is just timorous. Entitled demands for free passes should be stiff-armed, not indulged. If the decision to invite Gooch is an attempt by the PGA Championship to distinguish itself, it worked. But not in the way it was hoped.

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