Officials with LIV Golf, frustrated that the Board of Directors with the Official World Golf Ranking has not expedited a review of the Saudi-backed circuit’s application for accreditation, are trying another avenue in order to have players earn OWGR points.
On Wednesday, the MENA Tour (short for Middle East and North Africa) announced a partnership with LIV Golf. LIV officials believe the partnership with MENA, which already has OWGR accreditation, will allow LIV events to begin receiving points immediately, starting with this week’s LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok.
“We are taking this mutually beneficial action to support the game at the developmental level and because of the importance and fairness of LIV golfers qualifying for OWGR points,” said Atul Khosla, president and COO of LIV Golf. “We’re pleased to create pathways that give more opportunities for young players, while also giving fans rankings that include all the world’s best golfers.”
The MENA Tour was founded in 2011 and has mostly served as a developmental tour for players looking to eventually play in Europe, Asia and South Africa. In 2016, the Dubai-based tour, which ran roughly 10-15 events a year for purses of approximately $75,000 (LIV purses are $20 million), was awarded OWGR accreditation. The tour was canceled in 2018, and though it returned the following season, it has not staged any tournaments in more than two years. But as part of the announcement of the partnership with LIV (first reported by The Telegraph), the MENA Tour revealed it will return with a 2022-23 season that kicks off with this week’s LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok and includes LIV’s last two 2022 invitational events in Saudi Arabia and Miami as well as its 2023 lineup of 14 tournaments. All LIV golfers will automatically become members of the MENA Tour.
LIV—aside from Khosla’s remarks via the MENA Tour announcement—has yet to issue a statement, although one is expected to come Thursday. A press release from MENA stated, “The final field for LIV Golf Thailand, the opening event of the 2022/23 MENA Tour season, will be submitted to OWGR by the MENA Tour ahead of play commencing on Friday when the final field rating and winners’ points are expected to be confirmed.”
However, whether the OWGR will award points for this week’s LIV event or any other LIV events in the near future is far from certain. Messages to the OWGR on the matter had not been returned as of this writing.
A source familiar with the workings of the OWGR technical committee, which is reviewing LIV’s initial application, told Golf Digest it’s unlikely the OWGR would award points for this week’s LIV event, saying that an alliance with another tour doesn’t initiate automatic inclusion of LIV Golf in the World Ranking. Furthermore, MENA risks becoming decertified because it appears MENA might be changing its competition format to align with LIV.
On July 6, LIV sent an application for accreditation to the OWGR board, submitted via sponsorship from the Asian Tour, which also has a partnership with LIV Golf. Peter Dawson, OWGR chairman, acknowledged receiving the application after the OWGR board met during the Open Championship at St. Andrews, stating “an examination of the application will commence.” The process historically takes anywhere from one to two years to complete, and seemingly might take even longer given that the structure of the LIV Golf tour and its events failed to meet a number of prerequisites for OWGR accreditation.
Despite this documented protocol, LIV CEO Greg Norman has been seeking to have LIV’s application greenlit immediately. In September, 50 LIV members lobbied Dawson for OWGR inclusion, signing a letter seeking points not only for upcoming events but retroactively for events played since the tour’s launch in June.
“To maintain trust, we urge you—as one of the true statesmen of sports—to act appropriately to include, on a retroactive basis, the results of LIV Golf events in OWGR’s ranking calculations,” the players wrote. “An OWGR without LIV would be incomplete and inaccurate, the equivalent of leaving the Big 10 or the SEC out of the U.S. college football rankings, or leaving Belgium, Argentina and England out of the FIFA rankings.”
Considering that LIV already has a partnership with a OWGR accredited tour in the Asian Tour raises the question of why the upstart circuit would need to reach out to MENA. A source told Golf Digest that LIV’s stalled launch in 2022 was part of the reasoning, and its lack of avenues for Asian Tour players to compete in LIV events—an issue LIV has addressed—was hindering that route.
Additionally, while LIV Golf officials are confident they will be included under MENA’s point umbrella, an OWGR denial could be part of LIV Golf’s antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour as well as a separate filing against the OWGR.