When he speaks, we should listen. And one point he brought up in his Tuesday news conference in Scotland indicated the path forward the PGA Tour et al intend to use to quash the LIV threat.
When Woods wondered aloud, “Who knows what’s going to happen in the near future with world-ranking points, the criteria for entering major championships?” and acknowledged, “the governing body is going to have to figure that out,” it sure felt like he was advancing the position Slumbers took a day later.
Insisting an outright ban of LIV golfers at future Open Championships is “not on the agenda” for the Royal & Ancient, which runs the British Open much like the way Augusta National runs the Masters, Slumbers didn’t guarantee their inclusion either, falling back on the private group’s ability to change the parameters for entry.
And paramount to that are the Official World Golf Ranking points, the system that rewards golfers for their finishes in participating tours. On Tuesday, chairman Peter Dawson confirmed OWGR “received an application from LIV Golf for inclusion in its ranking system,” and said, “examination of the application will now begin.”
Should it be denied – and the no-cut, 54-hole, guaranteed-prize-money, shotgun-start setup makes that a distinct possibility – the majors suddenly have latitude to do what they want.
“We will review our exemptions and qualifications criteria for the Open,” Slumbers said. “And whilst we do that every year, we absolutely reserve the right to make changes as our committee deems appropriate. Players have to earn their place in the Open and that is fundamental to its ethos and its unique global appeal. ”
In other words, Woods knew what he was talking about when he fired this warning shot to LIV golfers, particularly the younger ones who haven’t had the time to experience or accomplish as much on the PGA Tour as the likes of Phil Mickelson or Dustin Johnson.
“Some of these players may not ever get a chance to play in major championships. That is a possibility, ”Woods said. “We don’t know that for sure yet. It’s up to all the major championship bodies to make that determination. But that is a possibility, that some players will never, ever get a chance to play in a major championship, never get a chance to experience this right here [at the Old Course]or walk down the fairways at Augusta National. ”
Without those ranking points, what Woods predicted is possible. But as much as LIV leader Greg Norman and the rest of his defectors want immediate and full affirmation as deserving of those points, the setup of LIV may hold it back, or force it to make changes to some of the very structures it has used to lure golfers away.
As Woods said, “What are these players doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice? What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You’re just getting paid a lot of money up front and playing a few events and playing 54 holes. They’re playing blaring music and have all these atmospheres that are different…
“I just don’t see how that move is positive in the long term for a lot of these players, especially if the LIV organization doesn’t get world-ranking points and the major championships change their criteria for entering the events. It would be sad to see some of these young kids never get a chance to experience it and experience what we’ve got a chance to experience and walk these hallowed grounds and play in these championships. ”
A day later, Slumbers echoed Woods, saying, “Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them. I have absolutely no issue with that at all.
“But there is no such thing as a free lunch. I believe the model we’ve seen at Centurion and Pumpkin Ridge [the first two LIV events] is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money. We believe it undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special. ”
That’s the system that produced Woods, that propelled him into the rarest of sports superstar stratospheres, and his gratitude and appreciation for that is one of the reasons he did everything he could to be at St. Louis. Andrews, the site of two of his 15 major wins, and to speak on behalf of that tradition.
Woods’s triumphant return to the Masters this year, which came in the wake of his devastating car crash and gruesome leg injury, got his major season off to a stirring start. But physical limitations forced him to withdraw from the PGA Championship after three days and he skipped the US Open in Brookline altogether.
But at 46, with his career at its tail end, he was determined to return to Scotland, where the Open celebrates its 150th anniversary at the birthplace of the game. Golf is going through some serious growing pains, and Woods helped give us a glimpse of what the fight might look like going forward.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.