U.S. Open could open pathways for LIV Golf players: 'We are serious about that'

America's major could open up new opportunities for LIV Golf players to join its fields.

PINEHURST, N.C. — We're two years into the ongoing split in men's professional golf. Passions have cooled, sabers have been laid down, and everyone involved seems a lot more agreeable now than they were in the volatile days of 2022. As a result, golf's powers-that-be are taking a more open approach to LIV Golf players, and that could mean opening more doors for the best players on the breakaway tour.

The crown jewels of golf are its four majors, like this week's U.S. Open. The most viable route into the majors is via the Official World Golf Rankings — play reasonably well for a sustained period of time, and you'll rise into the upper echelons of the OWGR and receive an automatic invitation. (The U.S. Open, for instance, invites every player in the top 60.)

But since LIV tournaments don't count toward the OWGR, LIV players are tumbling down the rankings, and their future major prospects are in severe jeopardy. For tournaments that seek to bring together the best players in golf, this presents a real problem.

The U.S. Open offers the most merit-based option: Play your way in. The "Open" in "U.S. Open" means that literally anyone can play their way into the tournament, as long as they survive the rigors of qualifying.

"It's not a closed field," USGA Mike Whan said Wednesday. "It doesn't require a committee or an invitation. If you want to play in this field you've got an opportunity to play in this field, and we're proud of that."

Phil Mickelson and others from LIV Golf are in the U.S. Open for now, but for how much longer? (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson and others from LIV Golf are in the U.S. Open for now, but for how much longer? (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Four LIV players — Dean Burmester, Eugenio Chacarra, David Puig and Sergio Garcia — qualified their way into the field. (Garcia was an alternate who received a later invitation.) In all, 13 LIV players will be competing at this year's U.S. Open, and nearly three dozen had the opportunity to start their qualifying journey at the highest level.

"If they really wanted to be here, they could go play 36 holes and qualify," Whan said, "and some did, to their credit."

The USGA, which runs the U.S. Open, is considering routes for deserving LIV players that wouldn't require qualifying. Last month, the PGA Championship invited several LIV players, including 2023 individual champion Talor Gooch, and the USGA could implement a similar plan.

"We're going to talk about it this offseason, whether or not there needs to be a path to somebody or somebodies that are performing really well on LIV that can get a chance to play in that way," Whan said. "We are serious about that."

One key roadblock, Whan notes, is that the goal posts for a resolution to golf's ongoing split keep moving. The PGA Tour and Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund have missed multiple self-imposed and suggested deadlines for resolving their differences and transforming their "framework agreement" into something more substantial.

"If I'm being perfectly honest with you, we've always felt like for the last maybe year and a half that we're always three months away from kind of understanding what the new structure is going to look like," Whan said. "The reason we're being more vocal about looking at that for next year is, maybe this is the new world order." In other words — if LIV Golf is here to stay, it might be time for the U.S. Open and the other majors to figure a way to incorporate its best players into their fields.

Bottom line: There's still a way into the U.S. Open, regardless of what happens with LIV in the years to come. "You've got to want to be here," he said, "but if you want to be here, there's certainly a way to get here."