STERLING, Va. — For nearly a century now, the Ryder Cup has pitted the top American golfers against the best of Europe, in one of the most prestigious team events in international golf.
But this year, the selection process appears destined for controversy.
The emergence of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf tour has raised new questions about whether its golfers will – or should – be able to participate in the Ryder Cup, which begins Sept. 29 in Rome. Some argue the event should include the world’s best players, regardless of tour affiliation, while others see LIV players’ inclusion as legitimizing a controversial league that has effectively fractured the golfing world in two.
"Don’t you think it would be a bit of a slap in the face to the players that didn’t go, that didn’t take the money and go to LIV, that somebody who took the money could now have their cake and eat it too?" Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said in a tense back-and-forth with colleague Brad Faxon on Sunday.
Six spots on the U.S. and European teams are tied to rankings points, while the remaining six spots on each team are awarded by their respective captains, American Zach Johnson and Luke Donald of Great Britain.
LIV Golf throws a wrench into the typical selection mechanism because its events do not count toward world rankings points, leaving even some of the league’s top players far out of the Ryder Cup qualification picture. American Brooks Koepka could prove to be one of the rare exceptions; he is sitting second in the Ryder Cup standings after his win at the PGA Championship last weekend.
There are also questions about whether Johnson or Donald, who both stuck with the PGA Tour, will use their discretionary selections to reward those who defected to LIV Golf – often in exchange for massive payouts.
Johnson said Sunday that he had not even started to discuss those picks with “anybody that I trust in my circle, specifically the vice captains.”
"It could be a really no-brainer, easy decision," Johnson told reporters. "I don't want to have any sort of misconceived notions or pressures because there's nothing there yet. There's just so much fluidity and so much unknown."
The picture appears to be more clear on the European side.
Henrik Stenson was stripped of his Ryder Cup captaincy last year after bolting for LIV, and LIV golfer Sergio Garcia told reporters Thursday ahead of a LIV Golf event at Trump National Golf Club that Donald informed him his chances of making the team are “slim to none.”
"It was sad because I felt like not only because of my history but the way I've been playing, that I probably could have a chance," said Garcia, a nine-time Ryder Cup veteran. "But it didn't sound like it, so that's what it is."
Garcia said he considered the possibility when he signed a contract with LIV Golf that it might result in his exclusion from the Ryder Cup, though he hoped it wouldn’t.
"You have to move on," he added. "I can't just be sitting here crying that I'm not going to play the Ryder Cup."
The inclusion or exclusion of LIV golfers at the Ryder Cup has in large part become a referendum on the league itself.
Branded as a more team-oriented competition with 54-hole events, LIV Golf is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and has been described by human-rights experts as an example of sportswashing – an effort to use sports to obscure or divert attention from the nation’s unseemly acts.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses ranging from politically-motivated killings and detention to the inhumane treatment of prisoners. A U.S. intelligence report also found that the country’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, signed off on an operation that resulted in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in 2018.
"While Brooks Koepka’s win at the PGA Championship was impressive, it should not distract us from the simple fact that LIV players are being used for the benefit of some very bad people and to the detriment of a great many more good people," Chamblee, who has been critical of LIV, wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
LIV golfers like Bryson DeChambeau have largely brushed off the ethical criticism about their participation in LIV. And when it comes to the Ryder Cup, they have argued the consideration should be country over tour.
"We're playing for our country, not playing for a Tour, not playing for money," DeChambeau said, citing Faxon’s response to Chamblee on Sunday.
"If we're good enough to be selected or even make it on the points through majors, which is insane, we deserve that spot."
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LIV golfers, Bryson DeChambeau make case for 2023 Ryder Cup picks