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Special invitations becoming more art than math for PGA of America

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There are 16 players from LIV Golf in the field at this week’s PGA Championship, which is nine more than were at last year’s tournament and three more than were at last month’s Masters.

The reason behind that increase in LIV representation is the PGA of America’s flexibility to invite players, with seven of those 16 LIV members receiving special invitations to play Valhalla.

We have 15 criteria that are pretty much set and then there’s an opportunity for us to invite those players who may not be in those 15 criteria,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s chief championships officer. “We’re fortunate in that case to be able to look at various tours, all tours, including LIV, world golf rankings, federation rankings, DP World Tour, New Zealand, Korn Ferry Tour and from those identify what we think are the best players or potentially the best future players and offer them invitations.”

Here’s a look at which majors, if any, all LIV Golf players are eligible.

Historically, the association invites players who are inside the top 100 in the world ranking who aren’t eligible via another category, like Adrian Meronk (No. 65 in the world) and Lucas Herbert (No. 90). The notable exception to that is Talor Gooch who has tumbled to No. 668 in the world since joining the breakaway league but received a special invitation to play this week’s championship.

“We have the most flexibility of any of the majors, right,” said Seth Waugh, the PGA of America CEO. “We are not bound to world rankings. We are not bound to special invitations. Obviously we have exemptions from past majors and past champions and things like that.”

The challenge is increasingly falling to the major championships to navigate the fractured professional landscape as players who joined LIV, which does not receive world ranking points, fall in the rankings. Gooch, for example, was 35th in the world before joining LIV and three of the seven players who received a special invitation to Valhalla are currently outside the top 100.

“We said last year it’s going to be a bit more of an art form than a math problem,” Waugh said. “We have the flexibility to do that and I think we have put together the best field in golf.”

Augusta National also addressed the world ranking issue by granting Joaquin Niemann, who had fallen outside the top 50 in the world, a special invitation to play last month’s Masters.