U.S. Open

U.S. Open 2024: Why LIV Golf may get exemptions into future U.S. Opens

June 12, 2024
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Patrick Smith

PINEHURST, N.C. — A pathway into majors, or lack thereof, has been a complaint from LIV Golf and its constituents since the Saudi-backed league launched in 2022, one that has only grown since LIV rescinded its application for World Ranking points. However, it appears the fledgling circuit may get its wish, and relatively soon.

Speaking to the media Wednesday ahead of this week’s U.S. Open, USGA CEO Mike Whan acknowledged his organization is weighing the idea of exemptions for LIV golfers for future U.S. Opens.

“There is no out-of-bounds stakes on our field criteria. In other words, this major probably different than some others, you can get in,” Whan said. “It's not a closed field. It doesn't require a committee or an invitation. If you want to play in this field you've got an opportunity to play in this field, and we're proud of that.

“I would say to your specific question, John [Bodenhamer, USGA chief championships officier] and I have both talked about it, and we're going to talk about it this offseason, whether or not there needs to be a path to somebody or somebodies that are performing really well on LIV that can get a chance to play in that way. I think we are serious about that. Exactly what that looks like and how that'll curtail, I'm not just being coy; we haven't done that yet.”

There are currently 12 LIV players in the Pinehurst field this week; originally there were 13, but Jon Rahm withdrew on Tuesday due to a sore infection on his foot. A majority of these were exempt through past major championship wins—such as Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Cam Smith and Phil Mickelson—but those exemptions have term limits and the end of those runways are coming into sight. This includes Martin Kaymer, whose 10-year exemption for winning the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst is up after this week.

While the competitive nature of LIV Golf remains in dispute, there’s no doubt the league harbors some of the game’s marquee talents. The USGA has also widened its exemption net in the recent past, including awarding a spot to the top Korn Ferry Tour finisher from the previous season. And if a feeder circuit is gaining entries into the national championship, it does raise the question of what’s stopping LIV from earning a guaranteed invitation.

Conversely, as Whan pointed out, the U.S. Open is open, and every LIV player had the opportunity to qualify.

“Half this field is filled open, and I think we had 35 players from LIV that were exempted right into Final Qualifying,” What said. “So if they really wanted to be here, they could go play 36 holes and qualify, and some did, to their credit.” Some of those players include Dean Burmester, Eugenio Chacarra and Sergio Garcia.

Whan also nodded to the ambiguity that continues to engulf professional golf making the matter difficult for the USGA.

“If I'm being perfectly honest with you, we've always felt like for the last maybe year and a half that we're always three months away from kind of understanding what the new structure is going to look like,” Whan said, alluding to the surprise framework agreement between the tour and LIV’s backer, the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. “So before we kind of react, what is LIV going to be, what's the PGA Tour. So we always kind of felt like we're just about to know that answer, so let's figure that out.

“Now I think the reason we're being more vocal about looking at that for next year is maybe this is the new world order, and if that's the case, we wanted to take a look at that.”

Whan’s comments come as the tour and PIF are in discussions regarding a possible long-term pact between the rival leagues.

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