Will LIV International Series players be allowed to play in the 2023 Ryder Cup?
There is a fortune on offer to those happy to break from the PGA Tour to aid the Saudi project, but could more be at stake for them?
It’s a golf tournament that has sparked controversy ever since its inception. The breakaway LIV Invitational Series gets underway at Centurion Club outside London on Thursday and has enticed a few of the world’s top stars to compete despite the related conditions imposed upon them by the PGA Tour.
We’ve already seen world number one Dustin Johnson resign from the Tour while others are accepting the fact that further consequences could be just around the next bunker. Whatever their reasons, onlookers can only see the petro-dollars kerching-ing their way into already rather stuffed bank accounts. And as they do, an additional coat of sport-washing is applied.
Ryder Cup 2023 places under threat for LIV participation
Two players that have spoken about the conflict and their reason for choosing to play in the tournament despite a risk of missing out on next year’s Ryder Cup team are British duo Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, where age and family were used as justification. To be clear, as yet, nothing has been confirmed on players being able to do both.
“The legacy standpoint is I’m trying to provide for my family which is the first and foremost thing I want to do. I come to work to play golf and that’s my job at the end of the day,” Poulter told reporters on Wednesday.
“Every week we play for vast sums of money and we always want to play for as much as possible. This is no different this week. When I moved over in 2004 to play on the PGA Tour, it was exactly the same there.
“I want to play for as long as I possibly can. Longevity in this game at the age of 46, turning 47 soon, that’s a factor. I want to play golf for as long as I possibly can and be competitive. So I’m happy.”
Both Poulter and Westwood - who have won several titles on the PGA Tour and the European Tour - also pointed to the fact that the European Tour had held many events in Saudi Arabia and that the PGA Tour had given them releases. Poulter said he was not sure about his Ryder Cup future while Westwood, a former world number one who has made 11 appearances in the biennial tournament, said it should not put their futures in jeopardy.
“I’m not sure about the playing days, I’m 50 next April. [Ryder Cup] captaincy could be in jeopardy as well, but Ian pretty much covered it all,” Westwood said.
“What I will say is myself and Ian have been members of the PGA Tour while we’ve been on the European Tour and that’s had no effect in the past on whether people have been captains. LIV Golf is another tour, so why should it be any different?”
Rory McIlroy keen for LIV rebels to play in Ryder Cup
Understandably, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy is hoping that his European teammates - including Sergio Garcia as well as the aforementioned Poulter and Westwood - are not excluded from the Ryder Cup due to their choice to pocket “boatloads of cash” from the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
The Northern Irishman has had a long-standing and very public opposition to the Saudi-backed events but that doesn’t appear to mean that he wants it to negatively impact on the biennial contest against the United States.
“Yes, I think they should be able to [feature in the Ryder Cup]. They’ve been such a part of the Ryder Cup and look at the history Poults has at the Ryder Cup,” McIlroy said ahead of the Canadian Open he is competing in. “It would be such a shame for him not to be involved going forward.
“It’s hard because they are playing in defiance of the Tour but I think everyone needs to get in a room and figure it out. I feel like the professional game was on a nice trajectory where everything was becoming more cohesive and now it’s becoming more fractured again and I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
“I think they’re thinking very short-term”
“I think my stance on it has been pretty clear from the start,” he continued. “It’s not something that I want to participate in. I’m certainly not knocking anyone for going. It’s their life, it’s their decision, they can live it the way they want to. But for me I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world.
“We all know why everyone’s playing in London this week, it’s boatloads of cash and it’s money up front and I get it.
“I think they’re thinking very short-term. Some of these guys are younger than me and have their whole careers ahead of them. That’s the thing I don’t get.”
Mickelson hoping to remain in US Ryder Cup team
For his part, six-times major champion Phil Mickelson has said that he will not follow compatriot Johnson in quitting the PGA Tour ahead of the LIV Series. With Johnson, and fellow American Kevin Na, having both resigned Mickelson hasn’t gone down that route, despite going back on a previous stance against the Saudi tournament. As McIlroy suggested, maybe it has something to do with the prize fund of $255 million, plus other incentives.
“Like the PGA Tour, the Ryder has provided so many special memories, relationships and friendships. I’m hopeful to be a part of the Ryder Cup going forward, but that’s not the reason to retain my membership, I’ve earned it.”
The 51-year-old, had taken some time out from the sport following a backlash over his LIV stance, added that he still did not condone the alleged human rights abuses of the Saudi Arabian government.
“I’m certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi and I think it’s terrible,” he said. “I have also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I believe LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well,” he added as his bank manager likely rubbed his hands behind him.