By: Tom Kopstein
LIV Golf is an upstart Saudi-backed golf tour that rivals the PGA Tour. In 2022, LIV successfully recruited several top PGA Tour players to its tour. In response, the PGA Tour declared that any player participating in LIV would lose all PGA Tour eligibility. This prompted LIV to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, which is currently ongoing. Nevertheless, LIV held its first event in June 2022 and continues to have a regular schedule of events.
Outside of the antitrust litigation, the biggest factor in LIV maintaining relevance will be whether its tournaments receive Official World Golf Ranking (“OWGR”) points. OWGR awards points to golfers based on their performance in certain events and ranks them accordingly. OWGR is important because many tournaments worldwide, including the four majors, use OWGR to determine who is qualified to participate. While some players can receive invitations based on past tournament performances, without OWGR rankings, many LIV players will be excluded. A high ranking also raises a golfer’s profile, which can lead to financially lucrative endorsement deals.
LIV applied for world ranking points in July 2022. OWGR typically takes 12-18 months to review applications, so LIV’s application is still pending. But, LIV’s prospects of gaining OWGR eligibility are questionable. OWGR sets a number of guidelines that prospective tours must meet to gain eligibility. LIV meets some of those guidelines but lacks in others. For example, tournaments must be 72 holes and have a cut after 36 holes, while LIV tournaments are 54 holes with no cut. Further, OWGR requires that tours provide a pathway for nonmembers to qualify, while LIV fields are essentially handpicked by LIV executives. However, these shortcomings may not be fatal to LIV’s application. The OWGR board has the discretion to grant a tour points without meeting all of the guidelines. In fact, this past December, OWGR awarded points to a tour that holds 54-hole events, albeit with a cut. Overall, LIV’s strongest argument for receiving points is if dozens of the world’s best golfers are excluded, the ranking would lose legitimacy.
The OWGR board responsible for the decision is comprised of eight members, including the chairman of the board, the heads of the four organizations that run the majors, an executive of the PGA Tour, and two executives of the DP World Tour—who also sanctioned its members for going to LIV. In November 2022, LIV sued OWGR alleging an “antitrust conspiracy to restrain trade and harm golf fans” based on PGA Tour and DP World Tour executives’ conflict of interest in voting to award LIV OWGR points. The three executives have since recused themselves from the LIV OWGR decision, leaving the head of the majors with four of the five remaining votes.
It is difficult to predict the board’s decision, but if it denies LIV OWGR points, LIV would likely sue, alleging antitrust conspiracy. At first glance, that hypothetical claim appears to have merit because the four majors have close ties with the PGA Tour, LIV’s competition. The majors serve as sanctioned PGA Tour events and allow the top PGA Tour players entry into their tournaments. However, economically, the majors would actually benefit from awarding LIV OWGR points. If LIV receives points, its players would have a chance to qualify for majors, and in a divided professional golf world, the majors would be the only tournaments where all the best players compete. This would raise the majors’ intrigue, increasing their profitability. Therefore, LIV may struggle to prove that denying LIV OWGR points was a conspiracy between the heads of the four majors because the OWGR board can argue that they obtained no economic benefit from the denial and were merely following their preexisting guidelines.
Unfortunately for LIV, even if OGWR decides to award LIV points, it may be too late by the time this all plays out. The amount of OWGR points doled out at tournaments depends on how highly ranked the players in the field are. LIV players’ world rankings have already dropped significantly. So if it takes another 6-12 months for LIV to obtain ranking points, LIV players’ rankings may have fallen so much that LIV events will only award minuscule points, not enough to qualify for the majors. In this scenario, LIV players would be locked out of elite professional golf.
 Joe Rivera, Who is Playing LIV Golf in 2023? Updated List of PGA Tour Defectors Includes Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson & More, Sporting News (Feb. 21, 2023), https://www.sportingnews.com/us/golf/news/liv-golf-tour-list-mickelson-johnson-dechambeau-pga/rlwprhtsx6uwgq73zq0e7ryc.
 Alex Miceli, The PGA Tour Banned Members Who Left for LIV Golf, Now Non-Members Can Be Banned, Too, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 1, 2023, 8:06 PM), https://www.si.com/golf/news/pga-tour-liv-golf-non-members-can-be-banned.
 See id.
 See How the Ranking System Works, Official World Golf Ranking, https://www.owgr.com/how-the-ranking-works (last visited Mar. 16, 2023).
 David Dusek, Why Is the Official World Golf Ranking so Important to LIV Golf? And How Do Pros Qualify for Majors?, Golfweek (Nov. 16, 2022, 12:00. PM), https://golfweek.usatoday.com/lists/official-world-golf-ranking-liv-golfers-how-pros-qualify-for-majors/.
 See Matt Vincenzi, Tiger’s Ex-Coach Claims Majors Aren’t as Important to LIV Pros as ‘Golf Media’ Thinks, GolfWRX (July 28, 2022), https://www.golfwrx.com/689309/tigers-ex-coach-claims-majors-arent-as-important-to-liv-pros-as-golf-media-thinks/.
 Rick Maese, As Player Rankings Tumble, LIV Golf Worries About Getting Past Golf’s Gatekeepers, Wash. Post (Sep. 17, 2022, 6:45 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/09/17/golf-rankings-liv-owgr/.
 See id.
 Bob Harig, LIV Golfers Will Not Receive Official World Golf Ranking Points at Debut Event in Mexico, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 17, 2023, 7:01 PM), https://www.si.com/golf/news/liv-golfers-will-not-receive-official-world-golf-ranking-points-at-debut-event-in-mexico.
 Sean Zak, LIV Golf’s Path to OWGR Points Became Clearer Wednesday, But They Might Not Like It, Golf (Dec. 28, 2022), https://golf.com/news/liv-golf-world-ranking-points/.
 About OWGR, Official World Golf Ranking, https://www.owgr.com/how-the-ranking-works (last visited Mar. 29, 2023); DP World Tour: LIV Players to Be Fined and Suspended; Players Suspended from Scottish Open, Sky Sports (last updated June 24, 2022, 5:06 PM), https://www.skysports.com/golf/news/12176/12639452/dp-world-tour-liv-players-to-be-fined-and-suspended-players-suspended-from-scottish-open.
 Adam Woodard, New Complaints in Florida Court Sue Official World Golf Ranking for Allegedly Colluding with PGA Tour, DP World Tour, Golf Channel, Golfweek (Nov. 15, 2022, 3:24 PM), https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2022/11/15/florida-court-lawsuit-liv-golf-owgr-pga-tour/.
 Jack Hirsh, Report: PGA Tour, DP World Tour Chiefs Recused Themselves from LIV OWGR Decision, Golf (Jan. 23, 2022), https://golf.com/news/monahan-pelley-recuse-liv-owgr/.
 See Schedule, PGA Tour, https://www.pgatour.com/schedule (last visited Mar. 16, 2023); Ryan Ballengee, The Perks of Getting in the FedEx Cup Top 30 & Tour Championship: Tournaments, Exemptions, The Golf News Net (Jan. 2, 2023), https://thegolfnewsnet.com/ryan_ballengee/2023/01/02/benefit-getting-into-fedex-cup-top-30-tour-championship-perks-4539/.
 See How the Ranking System Works, supra note 5.
 Michael Schmitt, LIV Golfers Continue to Pay Heavy Price for Switch as Dustin Johnson Drops out of Top 50, Planet Sport (Feb. 14, 2023), https://www.planetsport.com/golf/news/liv-golfers-continue-pay-heavy-price-switch-dustin-johnson-drops-top-50.