It is US Open week, but through three days at The Country Club the dominant storyline has nothing to do with America’s national championship.
LIV Golf and the possible fissure it threatens to the professional landscape has been the throughline in nearly every conversation on the venerable Brookline property, and that trend continued during Wednesday’s press conference with the USGA brass.
Clearly those in charge of the event are not happy the attention has been divided. Not helping matters is the presence of a dozen or so LIV Golf participants this week. That those who defected to the Saudi circuit were allowed to play in this event was somewhat of a controversial decision in itself, one USGA chief executive Mike Whan addressed.
“We definitely feel responsibility to this game, and we feel a responsibility to the competitors that play it. We did sit down and have a long conversation about a week before the US Open: did where somebody else played and what promoter they played it with, disqualify them for this event?” Whan said. “We decided no on that, with all the awareness that not everyone would agree with that decision.
“I’m sure there are players that both came through our qualifying and maybe teeing it up that are sponsored by those different – so we asked ourselves the question of: 1) one week before if you play somewhere where you’re not approved to play, would you be disqualified for the 2022 US Open? And we said no. And we also had to ask the question, if you’re going to put that kind of clause in, who gets in, we’ve got to go back to 9,300 people and played last week but who played ever, where, sponsored by. It becomes a pretty slippery slope to try to apply that across 9,300 people.”
However, Whan later added that the USGA’s decision this year would not be its ruling in perpetuity.
“Could you envision a day where it would be harder for some folks doing different things to get into a US Open? I could,” Whan said. “Will that be true? I don’t know, but I can definitely foresee that day.”
USGA president Stu Francis added the championship is proud of the fact that half the field had to earn their spot via qualifiers. “And as soon as we start to move off that percentage by a meaningful amount, I think it changes the US Open a great degree.”
Whan also added that he’s personally saddened by what has played out, and what will play out, in the coming months and years.
“Mostly as a fan because I like watching the best players in the world come together and play, and this is going to fracture that,” Whan said. “I’ve heard that this is good for the game. At least from my outside view right now, it looks like it’s good for a few folks playing the game, but I’m struggling with how this is good for the game.”
PHOTO: Rob Carr