Masters, Open Championship not yet ready to give exemptions to LIV players

Despite pleas from LIV and several notable major winners, the Open and the Masters aren't yet ready to open their doors to more LIV players.

The Masters will apparently not open special exemptions for LIV players. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Masters will apparently not open special exemptions for LIV players. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In the final week of LIV Golf's 2023 season, players and officials alike tried to make the case that LIV players deserve to compete in majors, one way or another. Their argument is a simple one: If majors want to have the best fields in golf, they need to invite the best players — all the best players, even the ones that have jumped to a breakaway tour.

The Official World Golf Rankings have swatted away LIV's attempts to have its tournaments receive ranking points, most recently a few weeks ago. In response, several LIV players suggested that the majors could simply sidestep the OWGR and offer exemptions to players on their own. All four organizing bodies of the majors offered some form of denial or no-comment to Yahoo Sports last week on the idea of exempting LIV players, and on Thursday, two of the majors went a step further.

“There's been some speculation in the media recently on the topic [of major exemptions for LIV players],” R&A chief Martin Slumbers, who oversees the Open Championship, said Thursday at the 2023 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne, where the winner will receive exemption into the Open Championship and the Masters. “I would say that it is completely off the mark. I would like to make it very clear that exemptions for the Open, we do not discuss them with anyone and nor would we at any point in time. I think it's very important that you don't lose sight of the fact that the Open is intended to be open to everybody; that you earn your place in the field, through exemptions, and that won't change.”

“If you look back over the history of the Masters tournament, and the qualifications that existed, we have changed those qualifications in numerous times, dozens of times,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley added. “As you'll recall last year, there was some speculation as to whether or not we would invite LIV golfers. We stayed true to our qualification criteria. We invited everyone who was eligible. While we do not, at this time, anticipate making a change in 2024, we do always look at [exemption criteria], and we will continue to do that. Our qualifications are very much dynamic, and we adjust to what we feel is in the best interest of a tournament representing the best players in the world.”

While that's certainly more expansive than a "no comment," neither of those answers is an outright denial of LIV players. The Open Championship is in the midst of tweaking its exemption criteria, and is expected to release that early next year. The Masters could make, and has made, qualification changes at any time.

Several LIV players have exemptions by virtue of prior wins at a given tournament, including Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson at the Masters and Cam Smith at the Open. Others enjoy exemptions because of wins at other majors — Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship and Bryson DeChambeau at the U.S. Open, for instance. But for those without a track record of success at the majors, including 2023 LIV individual champion Talor Gooch, there's no direct pathway into golf's crown jewels.

Gooch and others face a tough choice — try to cobble together enough points at Asian Tour events to get inside the world ranking cutoff by next year's deadlines, an unlikely prospect, or perform well enough in open qualifying for the U.S. Open or Open Championship to get an invitation, also a challenging path.

“From my perspective," Slumbers said, "without getting into detail, there are plenty of opportunities for any player in the world who thinks they are good enough to have a chance to qualify and play in The Open Championship irrespective of which tour they are participating on, and that will not change.”

Speaking of LIV players, Ridley noted that "they made decisions based on what they thought was in the best interests of their golf careers, and we certainly respect that.”