A win Sunday in Egypt gave Andy Ogletree a two-year exemption on the Asian Tour.
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There is obviously fallout for being associated with LIV Golf, especially playing in one of the controversial events. Andy Ogletree is well aware of the negativity.
Not only did playing in the first event outside of London in June lead to a suspension from the PGA Tour that prevents him from playing in Korn Ferry Tour events through the end of the year, but the former U.S. Amateur champion lost a sponsorship deal because it was erroneously believed he’d been suspended for life.
To add even more pain, Ogletree, 24, finished last in that very first LIV Golf event, 48th out of 48th players, finishing 24 shots over par and 31 strokes behind winner Charl Schwartzel.
Worse? He was never invited to play in another LIV Golf event.
“I kind of got the boot because I played bad," said Ogletree, who nonetheless parlayed that one appearance into exemptions into International Series events, where he won in Egypt on Sunday for his first professional win.
“I wanted to play all of them," he said in a phone interview from Cairo, where he shot a final-round 62 and won by four shots over another LIV Golf participant, Bernd Wiesberger. “I was understanding that I was to play more than once. But after the great turnout they had, everyone seemed to want to play (LIV Golf). I just didn’t take advantage of that opportunity."
But another presented itself and Ogletree took advantage, holding a three-shot advantage through three rounds and then never letting up Sunday to win $270,000 from the $1.5 million purse and earn a two-year exemption on the Asian Tour.
The International Series is part of the Asian Tour, an elevated series of tournaments fully backed by LIV Golf Investments. Purses are $1 million to $1.5 million this year with an increase expected in 2023. The Order of Merit leader is expected to get a LIV Golf spot in 2023.
All of which leads to Ogletree’s backstory and how he got where he is at the moment.
The winner of the 2019 U.S. Amateur and former Georgia Tech golfer who competed on a winning Walker Cup team, Ogletree, like many, saw the pandemic thoroughly disrupt his plans. He intended to turn pro following the 2020 Masters, but the tournament was postponed to the fall.
Ogletree waited so he could play the Masters, where he tied for 34th. He got a couple of sponsor exemptions to PGA Tour events and was hoping to earn his card that way or through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in 2021. But a tear in his labrum led to surgery and a six-month break.
He returned later last year, winning a mini-tour event, then making it to the third stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, where he failed to gain full status. He finished 100th, which meant he was a member of the Korn Ferry Tour but essentially had no place to play in 2022; his number meant no KFT starts.
After getting a sponsor invite to the Sony Open in Hawaii and missing the cut, Ogletree tried several Monday qualifiers with no success. He was a pro without a way to make money.
“I was trying to find a place for him to play with all my heart," said Mac Barnhardt, Ogletree’s agent who has represented numerous players over the years, including Davis Love III.
And that’s when the LIV Golf opportunity presented itself—and where the story gets interesting.
Ogletree was invited to play the International Series London event the week prior to the first LIV Golf event. He was granted a conflicting-event release by the Korn Ferry Tour and played without a problem.
But a release was not granted for the LIV Golf event that followed, even though Ogletree was not in the field for the BMW Charity Pro-Am that week.
“There wasn’t even a Monday qualifier," Ogletree said. “I had no place to play. I wasn’t in the event and couldn’t get in it. And I found out I was suspended after I teed off (at the LIV event). I couldn’t believe how it blew up. I was on the same list as the Dustin Johnsons and Phil Mickelsons. And everyone thought I was banned for life."
The PGA Tour had threatened players with suspensions for playing in LIV Golf events but announced no penalties until after the competition began. It was clear from that point that if you participated in LIV Golf tournaments, there would be consequences.
PGA Tour members have been suspended; those without membership have been prohibited from playing with sponsor exemptions or entering Q-School.
But Ogletree—and others in his position with little to no status—do offer an interesting quandary.
“He has no status so it was a little alarming the way they threw his name out there," Barnhardt said. “He had nowhere else to play. You can’t go anywhere and make money. He never made a dime from the Korn Ferry Tour.
“He paid the Tour $5,500 (to enter Q-School) for the opportunity for them to control his rights. He had a bad week, that happens. But there was nowhere for him to play. It makes no sense. My question to them was: 'Suspend him from what?’"
Barnhardt said he has no issue with the PGA Tour enforcing its membership rules but believes there is a huge gray area when it comes to players like Ogletree.
“I basically said, 'I hope you are right,’ about being able to take such action," Barnhardt said. “I hope you didn’t keep this kid from making a living. I just think they’ve left themselves out there. No lawyer I can find says he (Ogletree) has done a thing wrong. I’ve never seen anything like this. And I’m a huge supporter of the Tour."
Ogletree wasn’t allowed to play Korn Ferry events even via Monday qualifying. No Monday qualifying for PGA Tour events. He wasn’t allowed to enter the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying School, either.
But LIV Golf did offer him a path. While not providing any other LIV starts, it offered exemptions into the International Series events. It has been the only place he’s played in the last five months, with a tie for 57th in Singapore, a tie for 15th in Korea and then a missed cut in Morocco before his victory on Sunday.
One other perk: LIV Golf paid his expenses.
“I have no regrets," Ogletree said. “It gave me somewhere to play. It gave me the opportunity to get into the Asian Tour as well. My big thing was I just wanted a guaranteed place to play. I didn’t feel I was getting better playing Monday qualifiers. And playing mini-tours.
“What presented itself was LIV. It definitely helped that I was able to make some money and was able to fund what I was doing for the rest of the year."
Ogletree was referring to the $120,000 he picked up for finishing last at the first LIV Golf event. With his expenses paid, the financial windfall was significant.
And he made the most of his opportunity this past week, shooting scores of 66-64-65-62 at Madinaty Golf Club to finish at 23 under par.
Wiesberger, who has eight DP World Tour victories, shot a final-round 63.
“I mean, I take that going into Sunday in the last group," Wiesberger said afterward. “”It wasn’t good enough to throw everything at him. I played a good round and can be proud of myself."
So can Ogletree, who now has options. He is considering playing the next International Series event next month in Indonesia, then can pick from an entire Asian Tour schedule—as well as the International Series—in 2023.
And—if he does not compete further in LIV events—he’d be free to try his hand at Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour events as well. His suspension is over as of Jan. 1, 2023.
“I’ve been working really hard," he said. “The hip surgery last year was a setback. This year I’ve tried to keep my body healthy and really stayed on top of that and worked really hard to play great golf again. This has been building for a year and a half."
Bob Harig is a golf writer for SI.com and the author of the book “Tiger and Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry,’’ which was published in April 2022 and can be ordered here.
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