LIV Golf has entered into a strategic alliance with the MENA Tour, a move that the Saudi-backed league is hoping will lead to its events receiving world-ranking points.
The MENA Tour, a developmental circuit that stages 54-hole events throughout the Middle East and North Africa, began operations in 2011 but has held only one event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month it unveiled plans for a wraparound 2022-23 schedule consisting of at least 24 tournaments, with a minimum total purse of $75,000 – or $45,000 less than the last-place finisher at the $25 million LIV events.
The MENA Tour was officially recognized by the Official World Golf Ranking board in 2016, a point that was vitally important to LIV, for the OWGR is one of the main pathways for players to gain entry into the majors.
The rival tour submitted its application to the OWGR earlier this summer. Recently, 50 LIV players signed a letter addressed to Peter Dawson, head of the OWGR committee, that advocated for their inclusion, writing that the world ranking would be “incomplete and inaccurate” if they were barred from receiving points. The OWGR has not provided an update on LIV’s application, and the review could take up to a year.
“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,” Atul Khosla, the president and chief operating officer of LIV Golf, said in a release. “We’re pleased to create pathways that give more opportunities for young players while also giving fans ranking that include all the world’s best golfers.”
The sixth tournament of LIV’s inaugural campaign begins Friday in Thailand, and it will also serve as the kickoff event for the 2022-23 MENA Tour season. According to the press release, the final field for this week’s event will be submitted to the OWGR before the opening round, after which the tours “expect” to be granted points.
The co-sanctioned tournament is not yet listed on the OWGR website, nor has OWGR commented on the newly announced alliance. An OWGR spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Though not unexpected, players who defected to LIV have seen their world rankings tumble in recent months. Overall, LIV boasts 12 of the top 50 players in the world, but notables Cameron Smith (No. 3) and Dustin Johnson (No. 23) could slide significantly by the end of the year. They are already exempt into the 2023 majors based on their recent major victories.
It remains to be seen how much, if at all, the new partnership would help other LIV players in their quest to remain eligible for the game’s biggest events. LIV fields consist of only 48 players, and recent changes to the OWGR have made apparent that the limited-field events will receive significantly fewer points overall. With its recent launch, small fields, no cuts and limited access to tournaments (many players received significant signing bonuses to join), LIV events don’t appear to meet other parts of the OWGR criteria.
The 13 individual LIV events scheduled for 2023 will be rolled into the existing MENA Tour schedule, with the remaining MENA events also open to LIV members because of this new alliance. Financed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, LIV has also made a $300 million investment in the Asian Tour.
The PGA and DP World tours struck up a "strategic alliance," in 2021, that was viewed by many as an attempt to thwart the upstart tour.