A traditional exemption into The Open Championship with more than 20 years of history has been removed by the R&A. The Order of Merit winner of the Asian Tour no longer eligible for a spot in the game’s oldest major.
After being contacted by Golf Australia magazine regarding the removal of the long-standing exemption that dates back to at least 2001, the R&A confirmed it will no longer be available for next year's championship, with an official reason for the decision not given.
“We review and update our exemptions from time to time and any changes are considered carefully by our championships committee,” an R&A spokesperson told this publication.
South Australian Wade Ormsby was in line to receive the spot at The Old Course at St Andrews for the event’s 150th anniversary as the current top seed on the standings with two events to play. However, Ormsby and the challengers to his position will now have to look to other events and world rankings to earn their place.
“We review and update our exemptions from time to time and any changes are considered carefully by our championships committee.” - R&A spokesperson.
Tournament organisers like the R&A of course control the categories for exemption, or in the case of Augusta National and The Masters who is invited, into their fields. However, with the recent discourse in professional golf over the Asian Tour’s alignment with the Saudi backed LIV Golf Investments it is not unreasonable to imagine the alliance played a role in the decision of one of the chief custodians of the game.
The circuit based in Singapore has aligned itself with the Saudis and LIV, and is sanctioning what is shaping to be a star studded Saudi International in February. Both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour reportedly considering fines for players who choose to tee it up at Royal Greens.
So far the repercussions for players competing in events bankrolled by the Saudis have yet to materialise into actual sanctions or otherwise, but the removal of an established method of entry into one of golf’s biggest events, if indeed caused by the Saudi association, marks the first significant public move.
A key player in the recent Asian Tour and Saudi partnership has been Greg Norman, a two-time winner of The Open and a former World No.1 player who attempted to create a World Tour at the height of his powers.
Norman no doubt has remaining connections at The R&A as he does with current players he hopes to tempt into playing the Asian Tour events backed by LIV. Yet the significant decision of the organisation to turn its back on more than 20 years of tradition suggests that his position as CEO of LIV Golf Investments may not have been able to sway the decision makers at St Andrews.
The Asian Tour were contacted for comment on the change to the established exemption by Golf Australia but had not made any statement at the time of writing.