Masters chairman highlights issue with LIV Golf being 'closed shop'

Fred Ridley, the Augusta National Golf Club chairman, speaks to members of the media in a pre-event press conference ahead of the 88th Masters. Picture: The Masters.Fred Ridley, the Augusta National Golf Club chairman, speaks to members of the media in a pre-event press conference ahead of the 88th Masters. Picture: The Masters.
Fred Ridley, the Augusta National Golf Club chairman, speaks to members of the media in a pre-event press conference ahead of the 88th Masters. Picture: The Masters.
Joaquin Niemann used as example of how invitation process can be used at Augusta National

Fred Ridley, the Augusta National chairman, has vowed to keep using special international invitations to have the “best players in the world” teeing up in the Masters but also highlighted how LIV Golf being a “closed shop” is obstructing that from happening.

After 18 LIV Golf players teed up in the season’s opening major 12 months ago, the number has dropped to 13 for the 88th edition, with Talor Gooch, who plays on the Saudi-backed circuit, having claimed recently that Rory McIlroy winning this week to complete a career grand slam would need to be recorded with an asterisk due to players like him being absent at Augusta National.

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One of three special international invitations was handed to Chile’s Joaquin Niemann after he travelled to both Australia and Dubai to play in DP World Tour events in a bid to climb up the Official World Golf Ranking and, with LIV Golf having now withdrawn its application for points through that system, it is unclear how the players on the breakaway circuit are going to be measured going forward when it comes to the majors.

Speaking in his traditional press conference on the eve of the Masters, Ridley said: “Well, there's been a lot of discussion about that, and presently we do use the Official World Golf Rankings. As you know, we're on the board of the OWGR. We believe that it is a legitimate determiner of who the best players in the game are. There's been communication that's been public regarding LIV's application, which it subsequently was withdrawn after some remedial suggestions were made regarding pathways and access to players and concern about some of the aspects of team golf.

“But, in our case, we're an invitational, and we can adjust as necessary. I mean, a great example is this year Joaquin Niemann was given a special invitation. We felt that Joaquin had not only a great record coming up to this year, but after his season, he went to Australia, played very well there, finished fourth in the Australian PGA, won the Australian Open, one of the great, great championships in the world. And we thought he was deserving of a special invitation.

“Now, historically, and as stated in our qualification criteria, we consider international players for special invitations. But we do look at those every year and I will say that if we felt that there were a player or players, whether they played on the LIV Tour or any other tour, who were deserving of an invitation to the Masters, that we would exercise that discretion with regard to special invitations.”

Earlier, Ridley had talked about a big drop in viewing figures for golf events in the US this year, saying the “fact the best players in the world are not convening very often is not helpful” and adding that he thought it would be “a lot better if they were together more often”.

However, he was unable to provide a definite answer in reply to being asked if, as talks are ongoing about a framework agreement struck out of the blue between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund last year, he could see a time where Augusta National would give LIV players direct access via their order of merit.

“I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that has any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they're basically a closed shop,” he said. “There is some relegation, but not very much. It all really depends on what new player they sign. Those concerns were expressed by the OWGR, but I don't think that that prevents us from giving subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance to those players.

Our goal is to have, to the greatest extent possible, the best field in golf, the best players in the world. Having said that, we never have had all the best players in the world because of the structure of our tournament. It's an invitational. We've always honoured our past champions and we also honour amateurs. But we do have that flexibility and I would not foreclose that we would consider that in the future.”

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In a week when one of the rounds could be played at more than 7600 yards, Ridley pledged Augusta National’s support to the bid by the R&A and USGA to implement a golf ball rollback at all levels of the game and sent out a warning over that. “I certainly hope these regulations will be adopted,” he said. “I think were they not adopted it would cause a great deal of stress in the game, which it doesn't need right now.”

As for calls for the success of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, won by England’s Lottie Woad last weekend, leading to the possible introduction of a professional Women’s Masters, it seems that is a non-starter. “To have another tournament of any kind would be very difficult based on our season, based on the fact that this is essentially a winter and spring golf course,” said Ridley. “Also, we really respect the mystique and the magic of the Masters. So we would have to think long and hard to have another golf tournament.”



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