LIV and PGA Tour golfers converge this week at BMW PGA Championship

LIV and PGA Tour golfers converge this week at BMW PGA Championship

Players from the LIV Golf Invitational Series have not played on the same course with their PGA and European tour counterparts since July’s British Open, which was won by a golfer — Cameron Smith — who has since left the PGA Tour for LIV. Since the year’s final major, the saber-rattling between the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour (its European counterpart) and LIV has only gotten more pronounced, with LIV golfers and the circuit itself suing the PGA Tour on anticompetitive grounds and the PGA Tour unveiling a host of new features — most of them centered on paying its players more money — to counter the LIV threat.

But this week, 18 LIV golfers are in the field for the DP World Tour’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in England. Yes, it’s going to be awkward.

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Rory McIlroy, who has been a champion of the PGA Tour both on and off the course this season after winning the season-long FedEx Cup and becoming the tour’s most prominent anti-LIV voice, will play in the tournament alongside other PGA Tour stalwarts such as Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick, Viktor Hovland, Justin Rose and Adam Scott. He did not seem all that thrilled about playing alongside the defectors when he was asked about it after winning the season-ending Tour Championship last month.

“I hate what it’s doing to the game of golf. I hate it. I really do,” McIlroy said. “Like, it’s going to be hard for me to stomach going to Wentworth in a couple of weeks’ time and seeing 18 of them there. That just doesn’t sit right with me.”

McIlroy was even more blunt Wednesday, taking a shot at LIV’s competitions, which require golfers to play one fewer round than most events on the PGA or DP World tours.

Defending BMW PGA champion Billy Horschel piled on, asking why the LIV golfers were in England this week considering how many of them said the Saudi-funded breakaway circuit’s shorter schedule would allow them to spend more time at home.

“I don’t think those guys really should be here. … The Abraham Ancer, the Talor Gooch, the Jason Kokraks: You’ve never played this tournament. You’ve never supported the DP World Tour. Why are you here?” Horschel told reporters Tuesday, though Kokrak is not among the LIV players in this week’s field. “You are here for one reason only, and that’s to try to get world ranking points because you don’t have it. It’s pretty hypocritical to come over here and play outside LIV when your big thing was to spend more time with family and want to play less golf.”

But Gooch took to Twitter on Tuesday night to remind Horschel that Horschel hasn’t really played in too many DP World Tour events that weren’t majors or World Golf Championship tournaments, either:

Fellow LIV golfer Sergio Garcia said he doesn’t really care if the presence of him and his LIV contemporaries bothers anyone.

“I’m sure some guys will be tense about it [because] we’re going to go out there and play; what I’m going to do is support the European tour and that’s all I can do. Whoever doesn’t like it, too bad for them,” Garcia told Golf Digest during this past weekend’s LIV event outside Boston.

One LIV golfer, Martin Kaymer, decided to skip the BMW PGA Championship because of all the awkwardness.

“Of course, there will be friction there. That’s why I’m not going,” Kaymer told Golf Digest last week. “I don’t need to go to a place where, feel-wise, you’re not that welcome. They don’t say it, but [it’s there].”

The PGA Tour has banned golfers who have played in LIV events, but those golfers are allowed to play on the DP World Tour after an English arbitration judge ruled the European tour could not punish the LIV golfers until the matter received a full judicial review. That won’t happen until February, and the LIV players are free to compete on the DP World Tour at least until then.

In a memo sent to players last week that was obtained by the Golf Channel, DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley addressed the “strong opposition” to the LIV golfers who will play at Wentworth and asked that they not wear any clothing that features LIV logos.

“They will not be given any on course competitive disadvantage — i.e. unfavorable tee times — but they will not be required to play in the pro-am on Wednesday and will not be in TV featured groups,” Pelley wrote in the memo.

The BMW PGA Championship — which is considered one of the European tour’s marquee events, if not its most prestigious — will be crucially important for some LIV golfers because of the Official World Golf Ranking, which does not yet award ranking points to LIV events and may never do so. (LIV has applied for OWGR sanctioning, but a decision could be months away.) The BMW PGA’s strong field means it will give LIV golfers a chance to stay in the OWGR top 50, which is generally the cutoff point for major championship qualification. (Past major champions receive long-term major invitations, so LIV golfers such as Smith, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau don’t have to worry much about their world ranking, and none of those players will be at Wentworth this week.)

Gooch, for instance, ranks 46th in the OWGR, and a strong showing at Wentworth will keep him in the top 50. Otherwise, by continuing to play in LIV events that aren’t recognized by the OWGR, he will continue to sink in the rankings.

Other LIV golfers in the field this week include Ancer, Graeme McDowell, Patrick Reed and Lee Westwood. Rahm said their presence at Wentworth this week means lower-ranked golfers who don’t have the benefit of LIV’s Saudi riches are getting bumped out.

“What I don’t understand is some players that have never shown any interest in the European tour, have never shown any interest in playing this event, being given an opportunity just because they can get world ranking points and hopefully make majors next year,” Rahm told reporters Tuesday.

“A perfect example — a good friend of mine [Spain’s Alfredo Garcia-Heredia] is the first one out on the entry list right now. It doesn’t hurt me, but it does bug me that somebody who has played over 20 [European tour] events this year cannot be given the opportunity to play a flagship event because some people that earned it, to an extent, are being given an opportunity when they couldn’t care any less about the event.”

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