Cameron Smith has been given the green light to compete at The Open Championship ©Getty Images

Australia’s Cameron Smith will be able to defend his The Open Championship crown after tournament organisers agreed to allow LIV Golf players to compete.

The Royal and Ancient (R&A) Golf Club has announced that golfers playing in the controversial Saudi-backed breakaway league are eligible to enter The Open, scheduled to be held from July 20 to 23 at the Royal Liverpool Golf Course.

The Open becomes the third major to agree to their eligibility following decisions made by the US Open and the Masters.

Speaking to Golf Digest last October, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers stressed that banning LIV Golf players from The Open was "not on the agenda".

"We’re not banning anyone," said Slumbers.

"We are not going to betray 150 years of history and have the Open not be open.

"The name says it all.

"The Open needs to set itself aside from what’s going in terms of disagreements and make sure we stay true to our principle, which is to have the best players in the world competing."

Players have been criticised for their involvement in LIV Golf which is run by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund ©Getty Images
Players have been criticised for their involvement in LIV Golf which is run by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund ©Getty Images

The decision means Smith will be eligible to play as he seeks to win The Open for the second successive year.

Smith became the first Australian in almost 30 years to capture The Open last July before joining LIV Golf a month later.

Fellow LIV Golf players Phil Mickleson of the United States, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Henrik Stenson of Sweden will also automatically qualify for The Open as former winners.

"We have created an exciting schedule of events which takes in many regions around the world and provides the chance for golfers to earn a place in the Open at Royal Liverpool," said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director of champions at the R&A.

"We are grateful to our colleagues at the professional tours for their support and look forward to seeing who emerges from each event to book a sought-after place in the championship this year."

Greg Norman, who is chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, blasted the R&A’s "petty" decision to not invite him to compete in the Celebration of Champions or attend the Champions’ Dinner prior to The Open last year.

The Australian triumphed in 1986 and 1993 but was denied the chance to compete alongside other former champions in the four-hole challenge event at St Andrews in Scotland.

The LIV Golf Invitational Series is particularly controversial because majority of it is owned by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The PIF is Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and critics say the country is using it for sportswashing.

Players signing up to play in the LIV Golf Invitational Series have been threatened with exclusion from PGA Tour and DP World Tour events.