KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia — Cho Minn Thant may not be the biggest name in the big picture in professional golf, but he has two pretty big gigs in the game.
The first is his day job, and that’s as CEO and Commissioner of the Asian Tour. He also has an important role with the Official World Golf Ranking as a member of its technical committee.
Due to the Asian Tour’s relationship with LIV Golf, Cho said it would prevent him from playing a role in LIV’s claim for OWGR points. But he understands the process and is among the few, if any, associated with it to speak out publicly.
“I would like to see the OWGR award LIV World Ranking points for next season,” Cho said in an interview with Sports Illustrated at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, the site of this week’s LIV Golf Invitational Series Jeddah event. “This year was probably too early.
“How LIV started was a work in progress. It’s still a work in progress. And at the start of the season, they didn’t know which players would sign up. It’s massively more successful than expected at the start of the year, in my opinion. And very successful.
Still, Cho acknowledges that there are legitimate issues with LIV’s fate for ranking points.
“There are things that could be put in place,” he said. “There is no cut. Only 54 holes. The system takes this into account. There will be things in the world with the golf rankings as they are now that will prevent LIV players from getting really high world ranking points like the PGA Tour. They have 48 players on the pitch, where every player counts. This is a big difference compared to a squad of 156 players, which will obviously get more points. The 54 hole is another way LIV will have reduced points. But the principle is that they should always get points. ”
Cho, who became Asian Tour commissioner in 2019 after serving in various roles since 2007, was referring to aspects of the ranking points system which now gives a reduction in points due to the size of the field. This week’s LIV event features 38 of the top 200 players in the world and would receive around 20 points for the winner if eligible. The Zozo PGA Tour Championship with a 78-man field is expected to get 38 points for the winner.
In his role as Commissioner of the Asian Tour, Cho submitted LIV Golf’s bid for World Ranking Points. A potential tour must be sponsored by another tour and this happened in early July, before the British Open.
So far there has been no movement.
“I won’t be part of it, but I know it hasn’t been sent to the technical committee for review,” Cho said. “It may or may not be necessary. But for typical questions, they send it to the TC to discuss at least. ”
Cho is an Australian who grew up in Canberra and his parents are Burmese. He lives in Singapore, where the Asian Tour is headquartered, but also spends a lot of time in Florida, not far from the LIV Golf offices in West Palm Beach.
As one of the nine members of the technical committee, he dives into the scraps of the world ranking. Ian Barker, who works for the DP World Tour, is the chairman and there are also representatives from the United States Golf Association, PGA of America, R&A as well as the Japanese, Australian and South African tours.
The OWGR Board of Directors, however, makes the decisions. Chairman Peter Dawson, former head of the R&A, is unaffiliated, but the board includes PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley, as well as representatives from the Masters, USGA , the PGA of America and the R&A as well as the International Federation. of PGA Tours.
As Sports Illustrated has already reported, there are 14 guidelines, including several that LIV’s offering does not meet. But there’s also a disclaimer: not all of them have to be met to be approved; everything could be satisfied and still not approved; and the board has the discretion to change the criteria at any time.
Because of this, there has been a considerable amount of misinformation and a lack of understanding of the process.
“It’s the opposite of a normal app,” Cho said of LIV. “The Mexican tour applied. The Thai Tour, the Indian Tour, the Taiwanese Tour… they all applied for the world golf rankings. But these are development tours or national tours with hardly any ranked players. It’s a way for them to gain legitimacy, as (almost) all LIV players are ranked. Many of them are ranked in the world’s top 100, or even in the top 50 (12 are in the top 50).
“It’s a tough application because it’s a guideline, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. And the important thing to think about with LIV is that it’s not a regional tour .”
Asked about all the contradictions apparently associated with how the OWGR decides to award points, Cho said, “If we went back and looked at the qualifying criteria and applied them to all the tours that have ranking points world, they might not respond to it. ”
Asked for an example, Cho cited the PGA Tour qualifying tournament. One of the criteria of the OWGR is that a tour has an open qualifying tournament. For the past decade, the PGA Tour Q-school has not provided direct access. (This changes in 2023 to allow top 5 and ties on the PGA Tour.)
“He’s going to the Korn Ferry,” Cho said. If you wanted to stick to technical details, you always have to make concessions on a case-by-case basis.”
The Big Easy Tour is another tour that does not meet the criteria by not having a minimum purse requirement of $30,000.
The Asian Tour’s affiliation with LIV Golf was a work in progress over several years, Cho said. It all started long before LIV was a thing, when Golf Saudi, which owns Saudi International and is the promotional arm of golf in the country, offered a collaboration.
At the time, the Saudi international tournament was part of the European Tour. Cho was looking for more support for his tour, and there was talk of several high events and maybe some kind of “Race to Saudi” like the European Tour did with the “Race to Dubai”.
The pandemic has put all of that on hold. The Asian Tour went 18 months without playing an event and was struggling to stay in business. Only four events had been played in 2020. The tour resumed at the end of 2021 with two events in Phuket, Thailand, and two more in January this year in Singapore.
Tom Kim won the first Singapore event and finished tied for second in the second and earned the Asian Tour Order of Merit. Less than a year later, he is a two-time PGA Tour winner.
LIV stepped in at the end of 2021 to announce a $300 million commitment to the Asian Tour over 10 years by establishing the International Series, an elevated 10-tournament circuit that is part of the Asian Tour’s 25-tournament schedule. Round. The purses will be at least $1 million and the international series leader is guaranteed a spot next year with LIV Golf.
In fact, Asian Tour players played an important role in LIV Golf. Nine were on the pitch at the first event outside of London and they’ve had five or six in every event since.
“Coming from a tour where we’re happy to have $1 million events, suddenly playing for $25 million is a dream for our players,” Cho said.
Last week, LIV Golf announced that it was joining another tour called the MENA Tour, a development tour that had been put on hiatus due to the pandemic. The hope was that by incorporating into the MENA Tour, LIV could assimilate to a tour that had already earned points and get them immediately.
Cho knew it wasn’t going to work. At least not now.
“Look, it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t going to be passed without further review,” he said. “That it happened almost overnight after their event didn’t help. We all know that the world golf ranking is ruled by the powers that be. And they don’t make instant decisions. I think it was always going to be ‘we recognize it but we need more time to review it.’
LIV Golf is impatient, but Cho thinks it should happen.
“From a golf perspective, you watch these guys play, you watch them on the driving range,” Cho said. “There’s no denying that DJ (Dustin Johnson) is the top five in the world. Cam Smith is in the top five. Joaquin Niemann, Bryson De Chambeau. They’re the top 20 players and I don’t think anyone would deny that.