[PHOTO: Maddie Meyer/PGA of America]

Blame Rory McIlroy. In the immediate aftermath of two-time major champion Jon Rahm’s decision to join the LIV Golf League, the Northern Irishman wasted no time in expressing his fear that the Spaniard would therefore miss out on a fourth Ryder Cup start for Europe in 2025.

“The European Tour is going to have to rewrite the rules for Ryder Cup eligibility,” McIlroy lamented in December. “There’s absolutely no question about that.”

Well, it turns out the Old World circuit doesn’t have to do anything of the sort. As things stand, the regulations for Ryder Cup eligibility provide a possible pathway into the team that competes on the road at Bethpage Black for Rahm and any other European player currently plying his trade on the LIV Golf League.

“If we look at the eligibility criteria for 2023, I think there has been a slight misconception,” said Guy Kinnings, the newly minted DP World Tour chief executive, when sitting down for an interview on Thursday. “The reality is that, under the current system, if a player is European and is a member of the DP World Tour and abides by the rules in place, he is eligible.”

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A closer look at those directives shows that, every time a DP World Tour member like Rahm or Englishman Tyrrell Hatton plays in a LIV event without obtaining a release from Kinnings, he is subject to sanctions. While each breach is taken on “a case-by-case basis”, that typically means a suspension from the DP World Tour and an undisclosed financial penalty.

“If you don’t get a release there are sanctions, so a player must accept those sanctions,” Kinnings said. “And if he accepts the penalties, there is no reason why a player who has taken LIV membership and maintained his DP World Tour membership could not a) qualify or b) be available for Ryder Cup selection.

“It requires a player to work within the rules, but the truth is that those rules have been looked and tested. Everything is done in a fair, reasonable and proportionate way. So there is no reason why anything needs to change. It is wrong to think Jon Rahm has written himself out of the Ryder Cup. People instantly thought we would have to change the rules. But actually we don’t. If Jon follows the procedures in place, there is no reason why he would not be eligible for the 2025 Ryder Cup.”

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And, as it turns out, Rahm is carefully following those rules. As Kinnings confirmed, the two-time major champion has asked for a release every time he plays in a LIV event, including this week in order to tee it up in Adelaide. Those requests have all been refused, making Rahm liable for the aforementioned sanctions.

“Jon will likely have to serve a suspension,” Kinnings explained. “And if he does that, he will be eligible to play in the next Ryder Cup. He doesn’t actually have to enter a subsequent DP World Tour event to serve that suspension. He would be suspended from an event, even if he hasn’t entered. To be eligible for the Ryder Cup, a player must play in a minimum of four DP World Tour events. Any player will still be able to do that, even if he serves any and all suspensions levied. There are enough weeks in the year to do that. That’s not a loophole. Those are the rules we have always had.”

Kinnings went on to defend that situation – what many will see as something of a convenient loophole, despite Kinnings insistence to the contrary – citing the legally binding ruling of Sports Resolutions. (Ian Poulter and two other players had appealed when they were denied a release to play in the first LIV Golf event in London in June 2022. More players subsequently had joined the appeal.) In April 2023 the arbitration group ruled in favour of the DP World Tour, upholding the tour’s conflicting tournament release regulation and its ability to sanction members who breached it.

“Our members have had to pay for legal fees,” Kinnings said. “And our process has been vindicated. So we are not going to change anything. This is not new news. Not all of the European LIV players resigned from the DP World Tour. [European captain] Luke Donald analysed every player who was eligible for the last Ryder Cup. And had certain players performed well enough – as Brooks Koepka did for the Americans – then they could have been in the Ryder Cup team [in Rome]. As it is, they didn’t. Bottom line? We are not about to change rules we went to court to defend. They are what they are. The level of fines has not changed. Rules are rules. So we were not tempted to change when Jon went to LIV.”

So it is that Rahm and Hatton still can play their way on Donald’s 2025 team since they retain their DP World Tour membership (Sergio Garcia resigned his membership and while he has talked about trying to regain it, does not appear to have taken the steps to do so in time to be eligible for 2025.) All of which will surely come as a huge relief to McIlroy and anyone else concerned about the level of competitiveness we are likely to see at Bethpage Black on Long Island when the Ryder Cup reconvenes in September next year.