There's an old rule in journalism: Never ask a yes/no question, because your interview subject can duck a tough question with a single word. (Tiger Woods is a Jedi-level expert at this.) But sometimes, a single-word answer to a yes-no question speaks volumes all by itself.
Asked if he could foresee a time when the U.S. Open might block LIV Golf players from future majors, USGA CEO Mike Whan replied quickly and simply:
The breath exhaling in relief from PGA Tour headquarters probably set off hurricane wind sensors near Ponte Vedra Beach. No, the USGA isn't banning LIV players from the U.S. Open, not this year and maybe not ever. But just the possibility that LIV players might not have the option to play majors is the best news in what's been a rough couple weeks for the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf can offer its players boatloads of risk-free cash. What it can't offer is the history and honor that golf's majors provide. The USGA upheld the invitations of LIV players who qualified for this year's U.S. Open, and the R&A is expected to do the same thing for next month's Open Championship.
The PGA Tour doesn't control any of the four majors, which also include The Masters and the PGA Championship. That leaves the Tour, to some degree, at the mercy of the majors. However, if playing on the LIV tour meant giving up the chance to play in majors, that could realign the calculus for players interested in both money and legacy.
A few minutes after his one-word answer, Whan offered a bit of context. "I didn't mean to send some sort of tremor that everything is going to change tomorrow, but when asked the question 'could you foresee [a time when LIV players would be banned],' of course I could foresee," he said. "What exactly that may or may not look like will depend on what happens to the landscape."
Whan conceded that the landscape has shifted significantly in the last month, and stressed that the USGA would be making long-term judgments in due time ... but not immediately.
"What we're talking about was different two years ago, and it was different two months ago than it is today," he said. "We've been doing this 127 years, so I think ... [we] need to take a long-term view of this and see where these things go so we're not going to be a knee-jerk reaction to, kind of, what we do."
There was no chance that the USGA would make a sweeping announcement about LIV eligibility less than 24 hours before the start of its marquee tournament, and it almost surely won't kneecap the Open Championship by announcing anything before mid-July. However, there is one route to blocking LIV players: preventing players who are suspended on another tour from playing in the majors.
Asked about that possibility, Whan demurred. "I think it would be a lot of hypotheticals for me to get what LIV is going to be by the time we're talking about this next year, but as we would do any year, we're going to definitely reevaluate field criteria," he said. "We would any year. We will take a look at what the landscape looks like."
Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and several other LIV players will be in the U.S. Open field in 2022. Beyond that, their eligibility is very much up in the air.
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jaybusbee.