LIV golfers fight to qualify for major championships

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Several LIV golfers desperately want access into golf’s four major championships in 2024. A few vocal players, including Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, think LIV should automatically qualify them. They push organizers to create pathways from the new Saudi-backed league directly into the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Open Championship. 

Mickelson and others also urge LIV receive Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points. This would help players qualify for majors based on the world rankings. But LIV’s application for OWGR status got denied last year. So LIV golfers dropped down the rankings without earning weekly points.

Instead of complaining, many LIV players take a more practical approach – entering tournaments globally to directly earn qualification. Tours in Asia, Australia, and Europe offer ways into majors through their events. These tournaments also award OWGR points to boost their rankings.

Spaniard David Puig showcases this gritty strategy. Puig recently grinded through the Asian Tour’s Malaysian Open. The Malaysia stop represented one of 12 events in the Open Championships’s new “Open Qualifying Series” (OQS). The R&A designated these tournaments as pathways into their 2023 Open Championship at Royal Troon. Whoever finishes highest at Malaysia besides golfers already exempt, gets one of three qualifying spots. 

Puig risen to the occasion spectacularly. He shot astonishing rounds of 62-62 on the weekend at the Mines Resort course. The Spanish LIV representative’s hot putter propelled him past the field to grab the championship.

“Getting that Open spot is super cool, I came here for that,” an excited Puig explained post-round. His willingness to travel halfway across the globe and grind through a small Asian Tour event showcases LIV golfers’ desire for major inclusion.

Dean Burmester and Joaquin Niemann took a similar approach by winning OQS tournaments closer to home. Burmester qualified through South Africa’s Joburg Open back in November 2023. Young Chilean talent Niemann punched his ticket via the Australian Open in December.

Niemann’s major motivation extended a tournament longer too. After winning the Australian Open, Niemann immediately played the following week’s Australian PGA Championship. He targeted this co-sanctioned European tour event to push into the Official World Golf Ranking’s coveted top 50. Cracking the OWGR’s top 50 by April 1st grants Masters Tournament invites.

Niemann’s current OWGR rank sits at #81 after starting 2024 at #65. “It is what it is; I took this challenge [joining LIV] knowing that I was not going to be [assured of playing] in the majors,” Niemann reflected. But the confident 24-year old believes his game can still win majors soon: “I know I have the game to win one of the majors.”

Niemann isn’t alone feeling frustrated over LIV golfers’ major championship limbo. Restricted access bubbles beneath the surface for many Saudi-backed talents. After winning LIV Golf’s season-opener in Mexico, an irritated Niemann told reporters “I’m not in any of the majors.”

His teammate and friend Carlos Ortiz also vocalized disappointment recently. Ortiz expected LIV administrators promised they would eventually obtain crucial OWGR status and points. “They definitely said that we were going to get them. We haven’t got them,” Ortiz explained on a podcast. 

But the 32-year old stays patient, saying “I understand that we went out of the [mainstream golf] system, and it’s going to take time to be part of the system.” However, Ortiz believes talent and depth on the LIV series deserves acknowledgment. “I just wish we could change them and find a way we could be part of that [major championship] ecosystem.”

Unfortunately for LIV golfers, significant changes seem unlikely this year. Crucial negotiations still unfold between LIV’s financial backers in Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and PGA Tour executives. Until agreements get struck, LIV tournament results stay “unofficial” without rankings inclusions.

Time ticks for non-exempt LIV golfers eyeing April’s Masters Tournament. Unless Augusta National Golf Club unexpectedly issues special exemptions, LIV players must reach world top 50. Hence 21 LIV members playing in this week’s Asian Tour International Series event. A victor here receives approximately 15 OWGR points – helping inch closer toward Masters qualification.

Opportunities still exist for LIV golfers to play in the PGA Championship via special qualification criteria. The U.S. Open and Open Championship conduct multi-stage qualifying tournaments as well. Nine Open Championship “International Qualifying Series” tournaments remain on various world tours leading up to July’s event.

Reality looks bright for top LIV talents chasing major glory in 2024 – mainly the new circuit’s set of recent major winners. Multi-time champions like Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, and Phil Mickelson carry lifetime PGA Championship and Open exemptions. British Open victor Cameron Smith also holds a five-year Masters invitation until 2027. 

Yet work remains for bold upstarts like David Puig, Joaquin Niemann and individual LIV winner Talor Gooch. These rising talents will likely log thousands more air miles traversing the globe to earn coveted spots into professional golf’s most prestigious events.

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