Jon Rahm will almost certainly be at this year’s Ryder Cup in Rome, but the group that joins him on the European side for the biennial competition has never been more up in the air. It’s not just the Europeans, either, as the United States team is going to have some decisions to make when it comes to September’s event — particularly as it pertains to LIV Golf participants joining in on the festivities.
“There’s some people that are going to have to make some tough choices, right?” said Rahm on Tuesday at the Tournament of Champions where he will open his 2023 campaign. “A little bit of that is out of my reach. My guess is I hope the PGA of America and European Tour make a decision together. I don’t think it would be smart to have one team allowing LIV players and one not to.
“And besides that, even if they decide not to on that side, I think it’s going to give an opportunity for a lot of great young players to show up and have the chance in Europe, right? It’s just going to be an opportunity for all of them. We saw a younger U.S. team last Ryder Cup and they did what they did. So I’m hoping these younger guys who have grown up watching the Ryder Cup and seeing their idols do what they do, let’s say, it energizes the team a little bit in any manner and we show up there to win.”
Decisions are not unusual, of course, as captains for both sides always have to make picks for the matches (both teams will have six wild card selections this year). But the organizations that run this event — PGA of America on the U.S. side and European Tour on the European side — have some more philosophical choices to make before the captains make their selections.
Namely (as Rahm noted): Should LIV Golf player be eligible to participate in the Ryder Cup?
Several of the top players in the world left the PGA Tour and European Tour in 2022 to join the Saudi-backed startup golf league, and both of those leagues attempted to suspend those players from playing. The PGA Tour was successful in doing so while a court ruled that European Tour players could — for the time being — play in European Tour events. A court is supposed to issue a final ruling in February.
There has been much debate about what this should mean for players outside of these two leagues. The Masters, for example, recently said that any LIV player that qualified for its 2023 event would be eligible to play for that event. This seems perfunctory, but given how chaotic the last year has been, it was treated as big news.
In September, the PGA Tour — which, as a reminder, is a very different organization than the PGA of America — banned all golfers from participating in the Presidents Cup, which it runs on both the United States and international sides. Interestingly, international captain Trevor Immelman asked why Louis Oosthuizen could not play as he resigned his PGA Tour membership and an international Presidents Cup player doesn’t have to be a PGA Tour member to play in the Presidents Cup. He was told that Oosthuizen violated PGA Tour rules while he was still a member.
All of this is messy, and it’s up for debate over which team it will affect more. Of the top 12 players on the European side (according to Data Golf), only one — Paul Casey — is a LIV player, although Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood are on the cusp of being in that top 12. When it comes to the Americans, only Dustin Johnson is inside the top 12 while nobody else is in the top 20 (Talor Gooch is 25th).
The European Tour is in more of a bind than the PGA of America, and the ultimate decision will likely be dictated by what the Euro side wants. After attempting to keep players from playing on its tour, an about face when it comes to the Ryder Cup it also runs would feel disingenuous. Again, this probably (?) won’t matter significantly when it comes to the construction of the team, but Rahm wants Garcia there, and Rahm has a lot of sway on the European side.
Regardless of how it plays out, this is going to be one of the bigger storylines of 2023. All of our focus has been on what the major championships are going to decide when it comes to LIV golfers, but the Ryder Cup (and both organizations that run it) are in that boat as well. And while major decisions will affect a small percentage of the fields that play in them, Ryder Cup choices could (could!) have a massive effect on the actual outcome of this year’s event.