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US PGA Championship: Talor Gooch invite to major at Valhalla important for men’s golf

The four majors – the Masters, PGA, US Open and Open – are the main beneficiaries of the current split in the men’s game.

These are the only tournaments where all of the best players come together to compete for the biggest prizes. This is why it is important for the PGA to invite the likes of Gooch and Niemann – who was also invited to the Masters.

Both golfers are deemed to have shown sufficient form to warrant inclusion, despite plummeting world rankings because of LIV’s lack of recognition in the official standings.

Niemann won the Australian Open and sought to garner world ranking points in various events during LIV’s off season to help preserve the Chilean’s major status. This effort did not go unnoticed.

Gooch, who became a father for the second time last January, was less enthusiastic. A tie for 42nd in the Hong Kong Open last November was his only excursion away from the Saudi Arabian-funded tour.

Both the US Open and Open Championship offer routes into their fields through qualifying and the American tournament also offers the occasional invitation, as they have done for three-time winner Tiger Woods this year.

Gooch would have been in the US Open in 2023, finishing in the top 30 on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup list before signing for LIV. But a clause stating that a top 30 player must also be eligible for the Tour Championship scuppered his hopes.

Suspended by the PGA Tour for defecting, he became ineligible for the 2022 season-ending tournament in Atlanta and therefore lost the chance to compete in his national championship the following year.

Yet this US golfer earned in excess of $34m on the LIV tour in 2023. He won three of their tournaments and lost in a play-off to Koepka in another and was crowned individual champion at the end of the tour’s second season.

Gooch is not minded to try to qualify for the remaining majors this year – which is curious. It might prompt some to question whether his ambitions might be more driven by monetary concerns than a desire for sporting glory?

Then again, money has always been a key driving force in the professional game – the clue is in the pro bit.

Nevertheless, since moving to LIV, Gooch has acquired a reputation for eyebrow raising observations. After their Portland tournament in July 2022 he compared the atmosphere with the Ryder Cup – a match he has never played.

Then before last month’s Masters, referring to his absence at Augusta, he observed: “If Rory McIlroy goes and completes his Grand Slam without some of the best players in the world, there’s just going to be an asterisk. It’s just the reality.”

Well we can all breathe easy that Gooch will be at Valhalla. There will be no questioning the validity of the eventual winner given that this Oklahoma native, a man with zero top-10 major finishes, is in the field.

Indeed, while Gooch was compiling his stellar LIV season last year, he comfortably missed cuts at The Open and the PGA after finishing a lowly 34th at the Masters. He has not broken 70 at a major since a final-round 69 at the 2022 Open.

So it will be fascinating to see how he fares next week. Golf has such vagaries that it can be harsh to say someone has to justify themselves in any given event – but that pressure will surely be there for Gooch in Louisville.

The PGA has deemed him worthy of inclusion in its field and how someone, who has three LIV top-10s to his name this season but no wins, compares with the world’s best could be enlightening.

The sample size of LIV events is still too small to know whether 54-hole, no cut, shotgun starts against the same competitors improves these players.

Koepka showed 12 months ago that a LIV player can still lift one of the biggest trophies in the game – but is he an outlier? Having won in Singapore last week the US star is in form before next week’s defence, but is he as good as he was 12 months ago?

The number of LIV players eligible for majors continues to dwindle. Patrick Reed ends a 40-tournament run on the biggest stages because the benefits of his 2018 Masters win are now exhausted beyond Augusta.

It is impossible to know whether Reed’s golf remains worthy of major status. With only one LIV top-10 this season and lying 30th of their 55 players, probably not.

But last month he did finish tied 12th at the Masters and, aged 33, Reed should be in the prime of his career. Instead he will have a week off while the best in the world contest the Wanamaker Trophy in Kentucky.

Gooch’s mission, surely, is to show that he belongs in such company.

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