KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia — Cho Minn Thant may not be the most prominent name in the big picture of professional golf, but he has two pretty significant gigs in the game.
The first is his day job, as CEO and Commissioner of the Asian Tour. He also plays an important role as a member of the Technical Committee of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Due to the Asian Tour’s relationship with LIV Golf, Cho said it will prevent him from playing any role in LIV’s bid for OWGR points. But he understands the process and is among the few connected with it to speak on record.
“I would love to see the OWGR award LIV ranking points for next season,” Cho said during an interview with sports illustrated at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, the venue for this week’s event of the LIV Golf Invitational Series Jeddah. “This year was probably too early.
“The way LIV started with this was still a work in progress. It’s a work in progress. And at the beginning of the season there was no certainty which players would sign. In my opinion, this is massively more successful than they had imagined at the beginning of the year. And very successful.”
Still, Cho acknowledges that there are legitimate issues with LIV’s plight for ranking points.
“There are things that could be implemented,” he said. “There is no cut. Only 54 holes. The system takes that into account. There will be things in the world with golf rankings as it is right now that will prevent LIV players from getting super high ranking points like the PGA Tour. You have 48 players on the field where every player counts. That’s a big difference to a 156-man field, which will of course score more points. The 54 holes is another way LIV has fewer points. But the principle is that they should still get points.”
Cho, who became commissioner of the Asian Tour in 2019 after having worked in various capacities since 2007, referred to aspects of the ranking points system, which now sees a reduction in points based on field size. This week’s LIV event has 38 of the top 200 players in the world and would award approximately 20 points to the winner if eligible. The PGA Tour Zozo Championship, with a field of 78 players, is expected to receive 38 points for the winner.
In his role as commissioner of the Asian Tour, Cho submitted LIV Golf’s application for world ranking points. A potential tour needs to be sponsored by another tour and that was done ahead of the British Open in early July.
So far there has been no movement.
“I won’t be participating in it, but I know it wasn’t sent to the technical committee for consideration,” Cho said. “It may or may not. But for typical matters they at least send it to the TC to discuss.”
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, near LIV Golf’s West Palm Beach offices.
As one of nine members of the technical committee, he dips into the world rankings. Ian Barker, who works for the DP World Tour, is the chairman and there are also representatives from the United States Golf Association, the PGA of America, the R&A and the Japan, Australia and South Africa tours.
However, the decisions are made by the board of the OWGR. Chairman Peter Dawson, former head of the R&A, is not affiliated, but the board includes PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley, and representatives from the Masters, USGA, PGA of America and R&A, and the International Federation of PGA Tours .
As sports illustrated As previously reported, there are 14 policies, several of which fall short of what LIV offers. But there’s also a disclaimer: not all of them need to be met to be approved; all could be fulfilled and not yet approved; and the Board may change the criteria at any time.
Because of this, there has been a significant amount of misinformation and a lack of understanding of the process.
“It’s the opposite of a normal application,” Cho said of LIV. “The Mexico tour has applied. The Thai Tour, the Indian Tour, the Taiwanese Tour… they’ve all competed for the world golf rankings. But it’s development tours or domestic tours with hardly any ranked players. It’s a way for them to gain legitimacy while (almost) all LIV players are ranked. Many of them are in the top 100 in the world, if not the top 50 (12 are in the top 50).
“It’s a difficult application because it’s a guideline, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. And the most important thing to remember about LIV is that it’s not a regional tour.”
When asked about all of the contradictions that seem to be 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 tours that have world ranking points, they would may not meet. ”
Asked for an example, Cho gave the PGA Tour qualifier. One of the OWGR criteria is that a tour has an open qualifier. For the past decade, the Q-School has not granted direct entry to the PGA Tour. (It’s changing in 2023 to allow top 5 finishers and ties on the PGA Tour.)
“It’s going to the grain ferry,” Cho said. If you wanted to proceed from a technical point of view, you always had to make some concessions on a case-by-case basis.”
The Big Easy Tour is another tour that doesn’t meet the criteria, as it doesn’t have a minimum requirement of $30,000.
The Asian Tour’s affiliation with LIV Golf has been in the works for several years, Cho said. It started long before LIV was even a thing, when Golf Saudi – the owner of Saudi International and the country’s golf promotional arm – reached out to propose a collaboration.
At that 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 upscale events and maybe some sort 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 without an event for 18 months and struggled to stay in business. Only four events were played in 2020. The tour continued in late 2021 with two events in Phuket, Thailand and two more in Singapore in January this year.
Tom Kim won the first Singapore event and finished second in the second and was winner of the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit. Less than a year later, he is a two-time PGA Tour winner.
LIV stepped in in late 2021 to announce a $300 million commitment to the Asian Tour over 10 years by establishing the International Series, a 10-tournament circuit that forms part of the 25-tournament schedule of the Asian tour is. Prize pools are at least $1 million, and the International Series’ leader is guaranteed a seat at next year’s LIV Golf.
In fact, Asian Tour players play a big part in LIV Golf. Nine fielded the first event outside of London and since then they’ve had five or six at every event.
“After a tour where we’re excited about $1 million events, playing for $25 million is suddenly a dream for our players,” Cho said.
Last week, LIV Golf announced it would be integrating with another tour called the MENA Tour, a developmental tour that had been put on hold due to the pandemic. The hope was that by integrating with the MENA Tour, LIV could integrate into a tour that already had points awarded and receive them immediately.
Cho knew that wouldn’t work. At least not now.
“See, it was pretty obvious it wasn’t going to pass without further testing,” he said. “That it happened almost overnight the day before their event didn’t help. We all know that the world golf rankings are ruled by the powerful. And they don’t make decisions on the fly. I think it’s always been like, “We acknowledge it, but we need more time to investigate it.”
LIV Golf is impatient, but Cho believes 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 in the top five in the world. Cam Smith is the top 5. Joaquin Niemann, Bryson DeChambeau. They are top 20 players and I don’t think anyone would dispute that.”