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And so it goes that after more than a year of hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing, pearl-clutching and various other hyphenated behaviour, LIV Golf’s application for world ranking points has been denied.

Cue howls of delight from social media’s vocal anti-LIV brigade and a comparable degree of derision from its supporters.

If you thought 2022 was a noisy and divisive time for the game, 2024 is standing in the wings and would like you to hold its beer.

To bring you up to speed on another chaotic 24 hours for the men’s professional game, the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) board has considered LIV’s request for ‘accreditation’ and concluded that its players are “just not playing in a format where they can be ranked equitably with the other 24 tours and thousands of players trying to compete on them.”

In a missive to LIV CEO Greg Norman and the organisation’s interim COO Gary Davidson, OWGR chairman Peter Dawson added: “The decision to respectfully decline LIV’s application at this time is not meant to discourage your efforts to innovate in men’s professional and/or cause you to make changes you may not believe to be in the best interest of your tour and events.

“However, under our current Handbook, the Board Committee has not found what it believes is a fair and equitable way to assess the performance of players at LIV events relative to players playing on OWGR Eligible Tours.”

That’s a point that Norman himself would surely struggle to counter. Whilst LIV does have a system of promotion and relegation, some of its higher-profile players and team principals are understood to be exempt from that. Dustin Johnson could, feasibly, shoot 100 every single round of the regular season, finish bottom of LIV’s individual standings and retain his place for the following season by virtue of the organisation’s contractual obligation to him. You can’t very well have a team captain playing (respectfully) on the Asian Tour for a season, can you?

Where that becomes an issue for OWGR is that Johnson – and whoever else benefits from this ‘protection’ – is guaranteed a head-start on players on other tours. He hasn’t had to qualify to play on LIV. He has been chosen, and he will continue to profit (in more ways than one) from his alignment to it until his contract expires. For an apparently meritocratic system such as OWGR, that’s obviously problematic.

It gets even more complex when you consider the fact that the men’s game’s four major championships all use the OWGR, to varying degrees, to construct their fields.

Spots in this year’s Masters were given to the leading 50 players on the Official World Golf Ranking as of December 31, 2022, and March 27, 2023. The PGA of America typically reserves places in the PGA Championship for the top 100 on the rankings. The US Open this year invited the leading 60 players on the standings as of May 22 and June 12, with The Open giving spots to the top-50 on the OWGR.

And herein lies the issue.

By admitting it’s not sure how best to integrate LIV and its players, the OWGR has exposed its own shortcomings. It has essentially admitted that it recognises some of the game’s best players are playing somewhere new but, because it doesn’t know how to proper evaluate this ‘somewhere new’, it’s just going to ignore it instead.

In so doing, it is invalidating its own rankings – and if it’s not accurate, what purpose does it serve?

Dustin Johnson, again. Since the start of 2023, he has slipped from 41st on the OWGR to 121st. He’s currently one place ahead of Chan Kim, two below Grayson Murray and four below Samuel Stevens. His OWGR profile page shows him having made only four starts since The 150th Open 15 months ago. What it doesn’t account for are the 17 starts he’s made on LIV in that same period, during which he has won twice, posted only seven over-par rounds, and is a combined 120-under-par.

By any measure, that has to be worth something. But according to the OWGR, the only measure which actually matters, it’s worth nothing. Love LIV or hate LIV, it’s hard to argue that Johnson’s current OWGR ranking is not reflective of the golf he has been playing. To argue that point is to be deliberately disingenuous. Therefore, the current system is not credible.

The rankings’ fiercest critics – a growing cabal, it must be said – will point to the fact that Tiger Woods can host a ‘hit and giggle’ for 17 pals in the Bahamas each December and get OWGR points for the privilege. Others will point to the ‘unfair advantage’ given to players who receive sponsors’ invites to tournaments, or the existence of the PGA Tour’s own ‘invitationals’, or other 54-hole events, or no-cut tournaments… there’s a laundry list of iniquities, oddities and exceptions that the OWGR accommodates.

However, the majors remain the issue. Golf’s four biggest events should be contested by the game’s best players. That’s what the fans demand and it’s what the people running them want, too. If the OWGR cannot facilitate that, it’s reasonable to wonder if it has served its purpose and run its course. There is a growing sentiment that it’s time to shut it down and replace it with something more reflective of the modern game, such as Datagolf or The Universal Golf Rankings (TUGR).

Just a few years ago, such a shift might have seemed improbable. Now, it feels inevitable and (whisper it) necessary.

By denying LIV world ranking points – no matter how legitimate the justification – the OWGR has likely expedited its own demise.

It’s just no longer credible. And without credibility, it’s little more than a poorly-arranged list of names and numbers.

RIP, OWGR: 1986-2023. It’s been emotional.

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Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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