Fred Ridley sees 87th Masters creating 'path forward' as peace breaks out at Augusta
The season’s opening major is the first time since last year’s 150th Open at St Andrews that a large group of LIV Golf players have found themselves on the same stage as PGA Tour and DP World Tour players.
But, while there has been a lot of bad blood in the game since LIV Golf launched last June after luring the likes of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith with bags of Saudi money, a resemblance of peace appears to have broken out.
Smith, the Open champion, spoke earlier in the week about how happy he’d been to have been met with “smiles, laughs, hugs and handshakes” while Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka played a practice round together on Tuesday.
“I've noticed the tone has been really good here this week,” said Ridley, speaking in his annual chat with the media on the eve of the tournament. “I've noticed the players are interacting.
“Last night at the Champions Dinner, I would not have known that anything was going on in the world of professional golf other than the norm. So I think, and I'm hopeful, that this week might get people thinking in a little bit different direction and things will change. Golf brings people together, and I'm hopeful this week as Augusta can be the beginning of a path forward for our game.”
Greg Norman, LIV Golf’s CEO and commissioner, hasn’t been invited to this week’s event, having also been shunned by The R&A for The Open last summer.
“We did not extend an invitation to Mr Norman,” said Ridley of the Australian, who missed out on a golden chance to win a Green Jacket as he suffered a last-round meltdown in 1986 before losing in a play-off the following year.
“The primary issue and the driver there is that I want the focus this week to be on the Masters competition, on the great players that are participating, the greatest players in the world, which, by our decision in December, we ensured that we were going to honor and be consistent with our invitation criteria.
“I would also add that, in the last ten years, Greg Norman has only been here twice, and I believe one of those was as a commentator for Sirius Radio. It really was to keep the focus on the competition.”
Asked if Norman was likely to be invited in the future, the former US Amateur champion added: “It's hard to answer that question because I don't know where the world is going to be next year or two years from now. But I would never say never.”
Ridley also addressed the recent move by The R&A and USGA to try and roll back the ball at the elite level in the men’s game by introducing a Model Local Rule, which has been met with a mixed response from some of the top players.
“As the comment period remains open, we will be respectful of the process as the USGA and The R&A consider this important issue,” he said on that hot topic. “We have been consistent in our support of the governing bodies, and we restate our desire to see distance addressed.”
The 13th tee at Augusta National has been moved back by 35 yards, extending it to 545 yards, in the latest step taken by the people who run this particular event to stiffen the test for the new breed of athletic and powerful players.
“The whole purpose of the comment period is to take the input from the industry,” added Ridley. “So we will look at the final product and make a decision. I've stated that we believe distance needs to be addressed. I think the natural conclusion is, yes, we will be supportive.”
Hootie Johnson, one of Ridley’s predecessors, once talked about the possibility of The Masters having its own ball. But, asked about that, the current chairman said: “I think Hootie was trying to make a point; that that's something that, if we decided we wanted to do it, we could do it. But I don't think it's a practical solution.”
Meanwhile, only minor tweaks have been announced for the invitation criteria for the 2024, with two revisions being based on recent changes on the PGA Tour and the other offering a spot to the NCAA Division 1 champion.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.