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British Open won't ban LIV golfers from competing at Royal Liverpool

In an anticipated move, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews formally announced Tuesday that LIV golfers will be eligible for this year's British Open at Royal Liverpool.

Golfers competing on the Saudi-backed tour won't gain eligibility through their LIV Golf competition results, which don't count toward Official World Golf Rankings. But LIV golfers who earn exemptions from standard qualifying will be eligible to play.

This includes past British Open champions Cameron Smith, Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen, all of whom defected from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf. Other major winners competing with LIV Golf, including Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, will be eligible via the R&A's exemptions announced Tuesday.

The decision reflects those of the Masters and the U.S. Open, which also announced exemptions for LIV golfers for 2023 championships. R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers has repeatedly alluded to Tuesday's decision and made clear what was coming in an October interview with Golf Digest.

“We’ll go public in January, February with what we are going to do with regard to LIV golfers,” Slumber said. “But if you want a guide, go back to what I said in July. We’re not banning anyone. We are not going to betray 150 years of history and have the Open not be open. ...

"The Open needs to set itself aside from what’s going in terms of disagreements and make sure we stay true to our principle, which is to have the best players in the world competing.”

Cameron Smith kisses the claret jug trophy after winning the British Open on July 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Cameron Smith kisses the claret jug trophy after winning the British Open on July 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

LIV golfers were permitted to play at last year's British Open at St. Andrews. But the R&A's decision to decline to invite two-time winner and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman from its 150th anniversary festivities left questions open about how it would proceed moving forward. With more time to digest the then-nascent controversy, the R&A has opened its doors to LIV golfers, who are not permitted to play in PGA Tour events.

Smith won last year's British Open with a dramatic, six-birdie effort on the back nine on Sunday. Weeks later, he signed a deal to join LIV Golf.

"I’m looking forward to seeing Cam Smith tee up around 9:40 a.m. on the first day of the Open next year," Slumbers said in October.

What about the PGA Championship?

This year's British Open will take place July 20-23 and conclude golf's major calendar. Before that, the PGA Championship will take place in May. It's not yet clear how it intends to handle LIV golfers. While the PGA Tour has made its stance on LIV Golf clear, the PGA of America is a separate entity and runs the PGA Championship.

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh has said in the past that LIV Golf defectors "jeopardize their participation in future PGA Championships.” Meanwhile, there's no decision yet on how the PGA Championship will rule on LIV golfers for the tournament that starts May 18.

“There’s still a lot up in the air on that front,” PGA of America Championship Director Bryan Karns told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on Feb. 1. “... There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to sort of evaluate this. 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.”

LIV Golf competitors have faced criticism for joining the league funded by a Saudi Arabian government with a considerable track record of human rights abuses. The league itself is criticized as a "sportswashing" effort to legitimize the Saudi regime on a world stage. It's also a direct threat to the sovereignty of the PGA Tour, which has lost some of the world's best players to the rebel golf league.