Majors

LIV golfers are working the hard way to qualify for majors in 2024

/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2024/2/burmester-niemann-puig-liv-golfers-open-qualifying-2024-collage.jpg

Dean Burmester, Joaquin Niemann and David Puig have all earned spots into the Open Championship this summer through the R&A's Open Qualifying Series events. (Photos: Getty Images)

February 19, 2024

Joaquin Niemann hopped on a 14-hour flight from Chile to Australia just before Christmas. Dean Burmester traveled home to South Africa. David Puig trekked from LIV Las Vegas to Kuala Lumpur last week. For every LIV golfer who has called for a direct pathway from the league into the four men’s major championships, there seems to be an equal number willing to travel to the corners of the globe in search of major championship golf.

Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson are among a handful of LIV stars who have either urged organizers of the majors to create entry criterion for LIV players or called for LIV to receive Official World Golf Ranking points, largely so that they can use those points to qualify for majors. LIV was denied an application to receive them last year, the result of which being that many of its members have plummeted down the rankings.

Other LIV players have rolled up their sleeves and sought OWGR points, or direct major starts, from events on the DP World Tour and Asian Tour. The latter is a partner of, and pathway to, LIV Golf.

Puig, a former Arizona State star who plays on Sergio Garcia’s team on LIV, and colleague Sam Horsfield played the Asian Tour’s Malaysian Open last week in a bid for spots at this year’s Open Championship. It was the third of 12 global tournaments the R&A has designated part of its Open Qualifying Series (OQS) and offered three spots to the top finishers (not already exempt) in the field for the 152nd Open at Royal Troon.

Puig won the event at the Mines Resort courtesy of a pair of 62s in the final two rounds. “It feels great, weird feeling for sure; we almost missed the cut,” said Puig, who had made the 36-hole cut on the number. “The weekend was just insane. I mean 18 birdies, no bogeys, in 36 holes was unbelievable. Getting that Open spot is super cool, I came here for that.”

He joined Burmester, who won the Joburg Open in South Africa in November, and Niemann, who won the Australian Open in December, in winning the first three OQS tournaments. Niemann also played the DP World Tour’s co-sanctioned Australian PGA in an attempt to crack the world’s top 50 and receive a Masters invitation. His bid thus far has fallen short—he’s ranked 81st after being 65th at the start of 2024. (Editors' Note: On Feb. 21, Augusta National gave Niemann as special invitation to compete in this year's Masters.)

“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, so I was going to [Australia] to try [earn] my spot,” Niemann said at the time. “I know I have the game to win one of the majors.”

There is bubbling frustration among some LIV players that they can’t play the four biggest events. Niemann initial response after winning LIV Golf’s season opener in Mexico that “I’m not in any of the majors.” Niemann’s teammate, former PGA Tour winner Carlos Ortiz, said on the Subpar podcast recently that when signing with LIV he was told the league would receive OWGR points.

“They definitely said that we were going to get them. We haven’t got them. But I [also] feel that people have to recognize that there are good players [on LIV],” Ortiz said. “I understand that we went out of the system, and it’s going to take time to be part of the system. I just wish we could change them and find a way we could be part of that ecosystem.”

That change, however, is unlikely to happen anytime soon, particularly with the negotiations between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf’s financial investor, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, still on-going.

So, where does that leave LIV players trying to break into the majors for 2024? With it appearing unlike that Augusta National officials will extend a special exemption to Niemann or other LIV non-qualifiers, time is running out for the April 1 deadline to be inside the OWGR top 50 for a spot in the Masters. Perhaps that’s why 21 LIV players are entered in the field for this week’s Asian Tour International Series event in Oman, which should award about 15 OWGR points to the winner. (Note: Some players are also contractually obliged through LIV to play event in the series.)

As for the PGA Championship, LIV golfers can still be invited based on the PGA of America’s points system and a greater unofficial intake from the OWGR. For the U.S. Open and Open Championship, both have 36-hole final qualifying as a means for players to earn their way into the championships. The Open will include nine more tournaments in the OQS, four of which are on the PGA Tour (which has suspended LIV players), three on the DP World Tour (KLM Open, Italian Open and Genesis Scottish Open), the Japan Tour (Mizuno Open) and Korean Tour (KOLON Korea Open).

For now, the reality is the LIV players who should be in all four majors, are. They are almost exclusively its suite of recent major champions—Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson. Patrick Reed has a lifetime exemption into the Masters for his 2018 win, but the five-year entry for that win into the other three majors just ran out. He’ll have to find alternatives for the PGA, U.S. Open and Open Championship. So it is that Reed, like Puig, Niemann and LIV’s 2023 individual champion Talor Gooch, will have to rack up frequent flyer miles in the coming weeks to see if they can work the hard way into golf’s biggest events.