R&A chief Martin Slumbers calls LIV Golf ‘money driven’ as Greg Norman slams PGA Tour ‘stupidity’

R&A chief Martin Slumbers has embarked on the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series as a cash grab that threatens the merit-based culture of the game that has been cultivated over centuries.

He threatened to change the criteria for the British Open which would make it harder for some players to advance to golf’s oldest championship.

“Professional golfers have the right to choose where they want to play and accept whatever prize money is offered to them. I have absolutely no problem with that,” Slumbers said at his annual pre-Open press conference.

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“But there is no free lunch.”

He said two LIV golf events held outside of London and Portland, Oregon were not in golf’s best long-term interest and were “entirely money-driven”.

These 54-hole uncut events offered $25 million in prize money to 48 players. Many of them received signing fees, reportedly $150 million or more, for the biggest names.

Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson at the launch of the LIV Tour. (Getty)

“We believe this undermines the merit-based culture and open competitive spirit that makes golf so special,” Slumbers said.

He spoke two days after the Wall Street Journal reported that the dispute between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour had come to the attention of the US Department of Justice’s antitrust division.

“It’s a testament to their stupidity, quite honestly,” LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman said of the PGA Tour in an interview with the Palm Beach Post in Florida.

“They brought it on themselves. We have done nothing but set up a business model and give independent contractors the right to make a living doing something else, while still being a member of the PGA Tour,” Norman said.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended players for competing without release; some of them, like Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia, decided to resign their membership.

The European Tour fined its players who joined $176,000 and banned them from some tournaments. Four players appealed to a judge and were temporarily suspended, which allowed them to participate in the Scottish Open.

USGA CEO Mike Whan said last month he could foresee a day when players who joined LIV Golf would have a harder time getting into the US Open. It was as far as he got because it was in the early stages of LIV’s series and he didn’t find it necessary to rush into a decision.

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Slumbers said the R&A had no intention of banning players. This would presumably include Open champions whose exemptions end at age 60.

“But what’s on our agenda is that we’re going to review our exemption and qualification criteria for the Open,” Slumbers said. “And while we do this every year, we absolutely reserve the right to make changes if our Open Championships Committee deems it appropriate. Players must earn their place in The Open, and that is fundamental to its philosophy and its unique global appeal.

The US Open and British Open have not excluded any player suspended by their tours due to the “open” nature of their championships. Even though LIV Golf players are excluded from exemptions, they could attempt a 36-hole qualification.

Augusta National has yet to say how the criteria for the Masters might change. The club is closed for the summer and only opens in October to its members. The Masters champions usually get a lifetime exemption, and five of them from 2010 – Phil Mickelson, Charl Schwartzel, Garcia, Patrick Reed and Johnson – are now part of the Saudi-backed series.

Jack Nicklaus with Greg Norman during their 1986 Suntory World Championship semi-final match at Wentworth GC in Surrey, England. (Getty)

All majors rely on world rankings to determine who is exempt. Slumbers, Whan, Monahan and European Tour Leader Keith Pelley are among eight members of the official World Golf Rankings board. It met on Tuesday and acknowledged receiving an application from LIV Golf to be part of the ranking system. This process typically takes one to two years for approval.

By then, most LIV players will be out of the world top 50.

The start of LIV Golf and the players it continues to sign – none of the top 15, although Norman has promised more names to come – has been divisive in golf.

Tiger Woods has spoken out strongly against players who have joined them, saying on Tuesday they had “turned their backs” on the PGA Tour.

The R&A said it asked Norman, a two-time Open champion, not to come to St. Andrews for the 150th celebration – the four-hole exhibition on Monday, the dinner of champions held only in St. Andrews – because it might be a distraction.

Jack Nicklaus didn’t want to pick sides.

“Greg Norman is a golf icon. He’s a great player. We have been friends for a long time, and no matter what, he will remain a friend,” Nicklaus said. “Unfortunately, he and I just don’t agree on what’s going on.”

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Michael C. Ford