In a sensational move, LIV Golf is expecting its event in Bangkok this week to deliver world rankings points for the first time and so allow its players a pathway to qualify for the majors.
Greg Norman’s enterprise believes that a “strategic alliance” it has formed with the little-known MENA Tour will give the Saudi-funded circuit access to the ranking points which it has craved since its inaugural event in Hertfordshire in June.
This void has been seen as LIV’s biggest weakness, because with its members banned from the PGA Tour they are inevitably sliding down the rankings, meaning that they will not qualify for the majors, unless they have other exemptions.
LIV has sought confirmation from the Official World Rankings Board (OGWR) that rankings will be available for the Thailand event that begins on Friday, because it is now part of the MENA Tour, the development circuit based in Dubai which stages tournaments throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
The MENA Tour, which has been a member of the OGWR since 2016, has been mothballed since the start of the pandemic but is planning to return with an almighty bang by claiming the 48-man 54-holer at Stonehill as its opening event of the 2022-23 season.
The wraparound campaign will take in next year’s LIV schedule, which sees the rebel circuit becoming a league, with 13 individual events. Each of these will continue to have a $20million purse – with an added $5million in team prizes – and feature the likes of Open champion, Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.
Those big names will also be able to compete on the rest of the MENA Tour, which will consist of approximately another 15 events. However, these will have the same prize funds as previously, amounting to $75,000, not even 0.5 percent of the LIV purses.
In an announcement expected later on Wednesday, LIV will say that this is another example of it affording players opportunities and another pathway, pointing to the International Series it is funding on the Asian Tour. Yet plainly, this is all about the world rankings and the dispute that has been brewing since LIV’s formation when it submitted its application to the OGWR.
Norman has demanded that Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, and Keith Pelley, the DP World Tour chief executive, who are on the panel of the world rankings board, recuse themselves from the vote over whether to recognise LIV and a fortnight ago all the LIV golfers wrote an open letter to Peter Dawson, the rankings board’s chairman, urging for a “positive” and “quick” resolution.
However, the process takes at least a year and noises from OGWR insist that LIV does not meet any of the criteria. Yet as part of the MENA Tour, a LIV source told Telegraph Sport that “we are adamant that it ticks most if not all of the OGWR boxes. We do not know how they can exclude us now the LIV Golf Series and next year’s LIV Golf League is on the MENA Tour”.
The “strategic alliance” – clearly an audacious copy of the wording used when the PGA and DP World Tours came to an agreement 20 months ago, largely to stave off the upstart Tour – will create ripples across the game. Last week, Rory McIlroy, the world No 2, who has been one of LIV’s most vocal opponents, discussed the incongruity of some of golf’s best players tumbling down the order.
“I certainly would want the best players in the world ranked accordingly,” McIlroy said. “I think if Dustin Johnson is somewhere around 100th in the world then it’s not an accurate reflection of where he is in the game.
“But at the same time, you can’t make up your own rules. If they want to pivot to meet the criteria, they can… I certainly have no problem with them getting world ranking points, at all. But if you don’t meet the criteria, it’s going to be hard to justify why you should have them.”