USGA CEO: LIV pathway to future U.S. Opens ‘feasible’

USGA CEO Mike Whan can envision a future when LIV Golf players have a pathway to entry into the U.S. Open, but he also doesn’t view it as a pressing need.

A dozen LIV golfers will tee it up at Pinehurst No. 2 this week, and it was set to be 13 before Jon Rahm had to withdraw due to a foot injury.

Five earned automatic spots as former U.S. Open champions, two more were exempt for having won a major in the previous five years, and two others are in the field via other exemptions. The remaining four went through various qualifiers to play their way into the field.

That last quartet is why Whan doesn’t see a critical need to provide a pathway for LIV players to earn exemptions through their performance in the Saudi-backed league.

“First, let’s start with the obvious. About half this field is filled open, and I think we had 35 players from LIV that were exempted right into final qualifying,” Whan said during the USGA press conference in Pinehurst, N.C., on Wednesday. “So, if they really wanted to be here, they could go play 36 holes and qualify. And some did, to their credit.”

That would include Dean Burmester, Eugenio Chacarra, Sergio Garcia and David Puig.

The ongoing discussions between PGA Tour Enterprises and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that provides the financial backing for LIV Golf has been front and center leading up to yet another major this week. Whan said that while a future pathway for players into the U.S. Open via their performance for LIV is “feasible,” the USGA is taking a wait-and-see approach while the negotiations play out.

“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. “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.

“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.”

The topic of a pathway to the U.S. Open continues to simmer as LIV players tumble down the Official World Golf Ranking. With LIV events not qualifying for OWGR points, the league’s highest-ranked player in this week’s field after Rahm’s withdrawal is Tyrrell Hatton at No. 20.

Both Rahm and Hatton joined LIV Golf in December, so their OWGR will continue to tumble. Bryson DeChambeau, one of the league’s first signings, is at No. 38 thanks to a pair of top-10 finishes in the year’s first two majors. But other former major champions such as Cameron Smith (No. 72), Patrick Reed (74) and Dustin Johnson (374) have continued their freefall.

As the current state of professional golf stands, more and more LIV players will need to go through qualifying to play their way into future U.S. Opens.

“We’re not a closed door,” Whan said. “If you want to be here — you’ve got to want to be here, but if you want to be here, there’s certainly a way to get here.”