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British Open organisers will not ban LIV rebels but could make qualifying tougher

St Andrews (United Kingdom) (AFP) – British Open organisers have ruled out banning players who defect to the breakaway LIV Golf series from next year’s event but hinted that it could become harder for rebels to qualify in future.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in a press conference in St Andrews on the eve of this year’s Open that banning members of the LIV series was “not on our agenda” despite stinging criticism of the Saudi-backed tour, which he said was “not in the long-term interests of the sport” and “driven by money”.

“We have been asked quite frequently about banning players,” Slumbers said with an eye on next year’s championship at Royal Liverpool.

“Let me be very clear. That is not on our agenda, but we will review our exemptions and qualifications criteria for the Open.

“We absolutely reserve the right to make changes as our Open Championships committee deems appropriate.

“Players have to earn their place in the Open and that is fundamental to its ethos and its unique global appeal.”

The R&A followed the lead of the US Open by allowing rebel players to compete in the 150th Open at St Andrews, despite the PGA Tour and DP World Tour moving to ban them.

As a result, LIV series members make up over 10 percent of the field this week, their number including the likes of four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and former Open champion Phil Mickelson.

With the new tour only launching last month, Slumbers said there was no prospect of the R&A changing their conditions for entry in this year’s Open, even though LIV series chief Greg Norman was not invited to St Andrews for an event this week.

“We published the conditions of competition for the Open back in January and February,” he said.

“Everyone knew how you were going to get in the field for this week and we stick by that.”

‘No such thing as a free lunch’

One way in which the chances of rebel players appearing in the Open and other majors could be compromised is if the LIV series does not get formal recognition in the world rankings.

The Official World Golf Ranking confirmed on Tuesday it had received an application from LIV Golf to be included in the ranking.

“Examination of the application will now commence,” it said in a statement.

The emergence of the LIV tour, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, has plunged the sport into turmoil.

The series offers record prize money of $25 million per 54-hole event with shotgun starts and no cut.

In contrast, the prize pot at this week’s Open is $14 million, itself an increase of 22 percent from last year. The winner will pocket $2.5 million.

“Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them,” Slumbers said.

“I have absolutely no issue with that at all, but there is no such thing as a free lunch.

“I believe the (LIV) model…is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money.

“It undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special.

“The continued commentary that this is about growing the game is just not credible and if anything is harming the perception of our sport.”

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