Major(s) News & Notes, December 23rd, 2021
Did Five Family loyalty drive the R&A to yank a longstanding exemption and should they regret it? Plus, Masters invitations go out, a hefty Ryder Cup license fee and The Open embraces YouTube.
Days to Christmas: 2
Days to the 2022 Masters first tee shot: 107
Days to the 2022 PGA Championship first tee shot: 147
Days to the 2022 U.S. Open first tee shot: 175
Days to the 2022 Open Championship first tee shot: 204
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Unless you’re charged with fending off an existential threat. So if pro golf’s First World saga darkens your holiday spirit, then scroll on by the today’s opening salvo about the latest in Five Families vs. Golf Saudi. You can read about Masters invites going out, the Ryder Cup millions going from Ireland to the Tour Formerly Known As European, and learn about some exciting additions to The Open’s YouTube page.
Christmas came early for Greg Norman’s merry band of game-growers and their Saudi sugar daddies after thirty players were granted waivers to play opposite the 2022 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. At this pace, Santa Claus may even end up getting a Saudi International invite, too. As punishment, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will sentence him to at least six rounds of Monterey Peninsula golf.
Meanwhile over in St Andrews, the R&A appeared to show support for the legacy tours in a peculiar power play that undercuts their mission claims. The organizers of The Open stripped the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit champion’s traditional Open Championship exemption with only the Hong Kong and Singapore Opens left on the 2021 schedule. The R&A will still rely on three 2022 Asian Tour events to serve as Open Qualifying Series feeders, but ending the Order-of-Merit move seemed to be in anticipation of a Saudi Arabia-backed tour sending a “defector” to The Open. This, even though a schedule for a Saudi-backed superstar league has not been announced. This seems more like a 2023 issue. At the earliest.
“We review and update our exemptions from time to time and any changes are considered carefully by our championship committee,” the R&A said in a statement to The Telegraph.
Maybe it’s something Wayne Ormsby said? He’s the current Order of Merit leader with two events left. Otherwise, it’s a headscratcher. The move tosses out a longheld merit-based exemption and seemingly runs counter to the R&A’s mission of bringing the world to its championship. The last ten Asian Tour Order of Merit leaders—from 2019 back to 2010—were Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond, India’s Shubhankar Sharma, Malaysia’s Gavin Green, Australia’s Scott Hend, India’s Anirban Lahiri, America’s David Lipsky, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant, the Phillipines’ Juvic Pagunsan and South Korea’s No Seung-vul.
That’s a diverse group adding to The Open’s international appeal.
Back in May I wondered why the other bodies in golf were not doing more to help their friends at the PGA Tour and European Tour. I thought the governing board of the OWGR might impose a 72-hole requirement to receive points since the disruptor plan 54-hole events? Or perhaps require at least 50 players in a field to earn full points (sorry Hero World Challenge). Instead, the Saudi’s will put $200 million over 10 years into the Asian Tour for key co-sanctioning cover. So as long as the Asian Tour remains a recognized Official World Golf Ranking operation, they will have answered the biggest question players pondering a jump should: how will I qualify for a major if I’m not already exempt?
Responding to the R&A’s move, the Asian Tour has made a desperate appeal to reconsider what amounts to penalizing players currently finishing up their season and who have nothing to do with this turf war. Yanking the exemption is not a particularly intimidating move if you’re the Saudi’s LIV Golf Investments trying to woo players. This only weakens The Open and the R&A’s case for wanting to welcome the world.
At some point the major championships and the OWGR board they control may figure out a way to strip the Asian Tour of those precious Official World Golf Ranking points so vital to filling the Grand Slam fields. But even such a move may be impossible if the Saudi league poaches enough top players. And given the weak tour sauce out of Ponte Vedra this week, the majors may want to avoid further taint by sitting the rest of this spat out.
Commissioner Jay Monahan delivered a strangely flaccid response to players seeking Saudi International waivers and did so two weeks before he needed to. And all after threatening suspensions and bans for jumping ship to another tour like the one the Saudi’s are preparing. Yet Monahan granted waivers to thirty whose appearance fees reportedly start at $400,000 according to Golfweek.
Besides giving the players a chance to test their games out at storied Royal Greens, the releases undermine a huge PGA Tour event propped up by one of the Tour’s most loyal sponsors and on one of its most-watched weekends. (This year, the AT&T finishes the coveted weekend between the NFC/AFC Championship games weekend and Super Bowl Sunday.) Yet Monahan could only muster up the lightest condemnation possible: the abject cruelty of playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am once or twice down the road, assuming the game-growers are still PGA Tour members in 2023.
This was his best solution even though “the Commissioner may deny any particular request if he determines that such a release” would “otherwise significantly and unreasonably harm the PGA Tour and its partners.” This is easily the biggest threat to its existence the Tour has ever faced.
Maybe Monahan has reason to feel confident the Saudi’s won’t pull off the league concept. Or he figures his fellow Five Family members will figure out ways to make defectors think twice. But after folding so easily on the Saudi International, Monahan comes off more like Fredo than Michael. If he’s going to fold that easily, the other Families may be forced to make some high-risk moves to protect the pro golf model they’ve each declared preferable to the coming alternative. But the other Families, holders of the impregnable quadrilateral that has never been stronger, also need to avoid debasing themselves or their storied championships.
Top 50 Finalized, Masters Invitations In The Mail
Tyrrell Hatton (22)
Matt Fitzpatrick (24)
Matthew Wolff (30)
Lee Westwood (37)
Mackenzie Hughes (39)
Tommy Fleetwood (40)
Ryan Palmer (47)
Christiaan Bezuidenhout (48)
Min Woo Lee (49)
Takumi Kanaya (50)
Kanaya, playing mostly Japan Tour events, moved up 73 spots over the course of 2021 to finish in the all (too?) important top 50. Australia’s Lee rose 123 spots playing primarily in Europe.
Notables just barely on the outside looking in: Cameron Tringale, Ian Poulter, Russell Henley and Bernd Wiesberger.
The most significant jump of 2021? Sam Burns, who started at No. 154 and rose to 12th in the world.
And in case you were wondering, defending champion Hideki Matsuyama will be back, as confirmed by The Masters Tweeting his invitation.
Ireland Paying €22.5 Million License Fee For Adare Manor’s Ryder Cup
Brian Keogh filed an Irish Independent story regarding the finances surrounding the 2027 Ryder Cup and it’s an eye-opener. The various numbers were revealed after a politician requested the information from the government, revealing the €22.5 million fee for the Tour Formerly Known As European. Other costs will ultimately raise the tab to €50 million.
Additional financial support of €8.5million is also being provided for the Irish Open and the Challenge Tour and Legends Tour events scheduled to take place in Ireland up and including 2027.
Marketing of the event will also form a key part of the preparations for the hosting and a budget of €8m will be provided for marketing through and with the European Tour.
“Separate to this, an operational budget will be required to support the staging of the event to cover matters such as policing, local authority support, transport provision as well as an opening ceremony and fanzone,” Mr Chambers said.
They’re on the hook for the opening ceremony, too? Now that’s some shrewd negotiating.
R&A Uploads A Bunch Of Great Things To YouTube
Since Augusta National embraced YouTube by posting full final round broadcasts going back sixty years, the other organizations have embraced the medium for archival pieces and full-length broadcast postings. And somewhat unexpectedly the R&A has uploaded some recent final rounds, highlight packages and other compilations of note. Just some of the “content” posted in recent weeks:
The full final round broadcast of Jordan Spieth’s win in the 146th at Birkdale. I’ll save you ambulance chasers the trouble and cue up the 13th here.
Full final round broadcast of Phil Mickelson’s 2013 win at Muirfield.
Full final round broadcast of Tiger Woods’ 2005 win at St Andrews.
The Open’s YouTube page is here. You’re welcome.
Thanks again to those who recently gave The Quad as a Christmas gift and to all for subscribing, sharing, commenting and making my “job” fun. I look forward to a stellar 2022. Until then, ‘Tis the Season, Bah humbug and Merry Christmas.