Major championship discussion has been all the rage since the Official World Golf Ranking rejected LIV Golf’s application for points.
Players like Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau have discussed a new exemption category for players who made the jump to the upstart circuit led by Greg Norman and financially backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
But what would a major championship exemption category for LIV players even look like? A LIV official said an exemption for the top 12 players on the points list at the end of the season would make sense in their eyes. Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley already shot down the idea. Chief executive of the R&A Keith Pelly agreed. But let’s not let that get in the way of a fun exercise.
After all, it’s never too early to start thinking about the majors right? With the Masters a little more than 150 days away, here’s how exemption categories would pan out for LIV players at the 2024 majors.
Who's playing where in 2024?
A total of 12 LIV players are exempt into the 2024 majors as past champions. But which ones?
Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson will be at the 2024 Masters as past champions. Bryson DeChambeau (U.S. Open), Brooks Koepka (PGA Championship) and Cameron Smith (British Open) will be there as recent major winners.
That’s nine compared to the 18 who drove down Magnolia Lane this spring.
Past champions Martin Kaymer, Koepka and Mickelson will be joined by DeChambeau, Johnson and Smith at Valhalla next summer. That’s six players in next year’s field compared to 16 in last year’s championship.
DeChambeau, Kaymer, Koepka and Johnson are in for Pinehurst, with Mickelson and Smith in as well. Similar to the PGA, that’s six players for 2024 after 15 teed it up at the USGA’s flagship event last year.
The 2024 British Open will feature past champions Mickelson, Smith, Louis Oosthuizen and Henrik Stenson, with DeChambeau, Johnson and Koepka in tow via other major victories. Sixteen competed last year at Royal Liverpool. Next year’s Open at Royal Troon will feature just seven.
Top 12 exemption
Let’s say the 12-player exemption happened. Here are the top 12 from the 2023 standings, with their career-best finish in the four majors.
Harold Varner III
Charles Howelll III
Of those 12, four (Nos. 2-5) will feature in all four majors next year: Smith, DeChambeau, Johnson and Koepka. Patrick Reed, who finished sixth this season, is only in the Masters. Seven won’t tee it up in a major (unless they get through open qualifying).
LIV thinks the top 12 – which is 25 percent of its league, remember – are clearly of the standard that should be playing in the majors and that they’re beneficial to ensuring the majors have the strongest fields.
Talor Gooch should be playing in majors, and he got a raw deal courtesy of the USGA last year (though he chose not to try to qualify). Harold Varner III would improve major fields. You could argue for Mito Pereira, seeing as he was one bad hole away from winning the PGA, but he hasn’t fared well outside of 2022.
Branden Grace had a competitive run from 2013-2017 but has been quiet since. Charles Howell III hasn’t shown up at a major in a decade. Peter Uihlein hardly ever showed up. This all goes to say, LIV’s fields aren’t nearly as deep or competitive as they may think.
Top five (not already exempt)
Let’s game this out, though. How about a top-five category for those who aren’t already exempt?
That would place Gooch in all four majors, same with Reed, Varner, Pereira and Grace. Howell would make his first Masters appearance since 2020. Five players is just more than 10 percent of LIV’s field, much more manageable and easier to justify than 25 percent.
The bad thing for LIV players is three of the four majors use the OWGR to fill their fields. The good thing for LIV players? Two of the four are open championships.
If a LIV player wants to play and isn’t exempt, he can attempt to qualify like everyone else who lost or never had an exemption. Instead of playing the victim card, he can earn his spot once again. That’s the beauty of an open championship.
When players made their choice to leave for LIV, they knew the consequences of their actions would be costly with regard to the majors. Open qualifying isn’t the easiest route back to the biggest four events of the season, but to quote Don Draper, that’s what the money’s for.