‘We are serious’: Major move for LIV hopefuls

U.S. Open - Preview Day Three
Cameron Smith prepping for the US Open. Picture: Alex Slitz/Getty Images/AFP

The head of the USGA has declared there will be significant off-season conversations about whether to create a clearer pathway into the US Open for LIV players, with Mike Whan declaring “we are serious about that”.

After the withdrawal of 2021 winner Jon Rahm, there are 12 LIV players at Pinehurst for this week’s event, including Australian star Cameron Smith. But several of them are former winners playing on exemptions that will run out in the coming years that could reduce the number of contenders from the Saudi-backed tour.

Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Martin Kaymer are all former US Open winners now playing with LIV, with Kaymer in the final year of his 10-year exemption.

Phil Mickelson, a six-time runner-up in the US Open, also has just one year left on his five-year exemption for winning the 2021 PGA Championship, the same exemption that allows Smith, who won the 2022 British Open, to play.

With slow progress being made on the deal between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund that will shape the future of the game, Whan said the USGA would be proactive to ensure that while the door was open for anyone to qualify, there could be easier ways in for the best players on the LIV tour.

“We’re going to talk about it this off-season, 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,” Whan said ahead of the start of the US Open on Thursday night, Australian time.

“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.”

Whan pointed out that the US Open was not a “closed field” and LIV players could qualify should they want to under current rules.

“I think we had 35 players from LIV that were exempted right into final qualifying, so if they really wanted to be here, they could go play 36 holes and qualify, and some did, to their credit,” he said.

“I think we have 13 or 14 LIV players in the field, and that’s essentially what we’ve had in ’22 and ’23.

“There (are) no out-of-bounds stakes on our field criteria.

“In other words, this major, probably different than some others, you can get in. 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.”

Whan indicated that a potential pathway wouldn’t be “huge” but more in line with exemptions for the winner of the European BMW PGA Championship and the top-two finishers in the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai standings from the previous season.

He said the new shape of the golfing landscape could also dictate what they do.

“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,” he said.

“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.”