PGA may prohibit some of the best golfers to play at Oak Hill. Here's why
Although it may seem a little hard to believe as you look out at your snow-covered yard, in 107 days golf balls will be in the air and the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club will be underway.
With a first-round commencement of Thursday, May 18, this will be the earliest beginning of the 13 major events the East Course has hosted, beating by about a week both the 2008 and 2019 Senior PGA Championships. One would expect that the snow would be gone, but hey, this is Rochester so should we really feel safe in making that assumption?
Potential weather worries aside, things have come together quite nicely according to Bryan Karns of the PGA of America, who is back in town reprising his role from the 2019 Senior as championship director.
Construction got off to a great start in the fall, and the lack of accumulated snow thus far this winter has allowed for more work to be done around the property in preparation for the tournament. All of the corporate hospitality and almost all of the daily tickets have been sold, though there are still some available for the Monday and Tuesday practice days and the first round Thursday.
And so many other finite details are being checked off as the months and days count down which comes as no surprise to Karns because he knows how adept Oak Hill and the Rochester community partners are when it comes to preparing for major events.
“In a lot of ways I’m just the biggest cheerleader for this community because it makes things so easy,” Karns said Tuesday. “Obviously there’s lots of little things to work out … but I think as far as the championship, it’s in incredible shape.”
LIV Golf controversy is still an issue for PGA Championship
There is one issue that has yet to be resolved, though, and it’s a big one. Maybe the biggest of all.
Will the PGA of America allow the players who have switched allegiances from the PGA Tour to the breakaway entity known as LIV Golf to participate in the tournament which is now positioned as the second major championship on the golf calendar behind the Masters and in front of the U.S. and British opens?
“There’s still a lot up in the air on that front,” said Karns, who was quick to point out that the decision is far above his pay grade.
With Greg Norman as the CEO and public face of LIV, some of the best players in the world bolted the PGA Tour last year to play for the new tour that is controversially financed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.
What golfers switched to LIV Golf?
That list includes past major champions and/or world No. 1 players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Sergio García, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, Cameron Smith, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Lee Westwood, many of whom were paid exorbitant appearance fees. Johnson’s was believed to be in excess of $100 million, more than he had made in his entire PGA Tour career.
The players were allowed to play in the 2022 U.S. Open and British Open, and the Masters has granted invitations to LIV players who are eligible for its tournament at Augusta National in April. But this is the first time the PGA of America will be confronted with allowing or denying LIV golfers into the PGA Championship field.
“This is the first full year of LIV, essentially, in their full operating capacity,” Karns said. “The majors are all sort of separate entities. The PGA Tour has their approach and the majors are all independently operated.
“Golf is wild because it’s such a fragmented industry. It’s not like the NFL and all the teams report up and there’s sort of one policy. (In golf), everybody sort of marches to their own drum and everybody plays very nicely in the sand and now LIV has come in and changed the game in a lot of ways.”
Sure has, and now it seems as if no one is getting along in the sandbox and lawsuits are flying around like tee shots.
When LIV came into existence, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh was one of the staunch opponents of its creation and said players who made the switch to LIV could “jeopardize their participation in future PGA Championships.”
Waugh went on to add, “We’re a fan of the current ecosystem and world golf ranking system and everything else that goes into creating the best field in golf. We don’t think this is good for the game and we are supportive of that ecosystem. We have our own bylaws that we will follow towards those fields.”
Those bylaws require players to be members of the PGA of America, which they gain through their membership on the PGA Tour. The LIV players are in violation of that bylaw.
Winners of the PGA Championship are given a lifetime exemption into the event, meaning LIV members Mickelson, Koepka and Kaymer theoretically should be able to play, but this is new territory for everyone.
When will a decision on LIV golfers be made?
“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to sort of evaluate this,” Karns said. “Probably late spring, prior to the championship, maybe in the last 30 days, there’ll be some sort of announcement about what that looks like.”
While the likes of Mickelson, Johnson, Koepka, Dechambeau and Garcia are big names, none is even close to the top 25 in the world rankings. In fact, the only two LIV players currently in that group are Smith (No. 4) and Joaquin Niemann (No. 23). The next highest-ranked player now with LIV is Abraham Ancer at No. 37.
So, while it would be nice to have those players come to Oak Hill, the field will be just fine with the likes of world No. 1 Rory McIlroy as well as top-ranked Americans Scottie Scheffler (2), Patrick Cantlay (5), Xander Schauffele (6), Collin Morikawa (7), Will Zalatoris (8), and Justin Thomas (9) all expected to play, not to mention, possibly, Tiger Woods.
“When you think about events now, there’s always talk about purses and elevated events, and everybody’s trying to kind of solve that,” Karns said. “But at the end of the day, these guys want to play the best courses, they want to play for the biggest trophies, the stuff that really elevates their legacy and they want to do it at venues that really matter. A PGA Championship at Oak Hill checks both of those boxes.”
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: PGA Championship 2023: Will LIV golfers be allowed at Oak Hill?