Augusta National Chairman Has No Plan to Give LIV Golfers a New Path to Masters Field

A lack of world ranking points continues to plague LIV players in terms of access to majors, and Fred Ridley said the league's format is the problem.
Apr 6, 2024; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley introduces winner Lottie
Apr 6, 2024; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley introduces winner Lottie / Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

AUGUSTA, Ga. — In the absence of Official World Golf Ranking points, the LIV Golf League and several of its players have lobbied for the major championships to offer direct access to their tournaments via LIV’s season-long points list or some aggregation of tournaments.

But as it applies to the Masters, such a move does not appear forthcoming anytime soon.

Chairman Fred Ridley announced no new qualification criteria for the 2025 tournament—the Wednesday news conference is typically where such revelations are made—and pointed to Augusta National’s own ability to offer invitations as a way to get players into the field who are not otherwise invited.

And he said that the LIV Golf format, which has been rejected by the OWGR, is an issue due to its lack of turnover.

Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley
Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley said LIV Golf's format is a detriment to evaluating its players. / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Network

“I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that had any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they're basically, not totally, but for the most part, a closed shop,” Ridley said of the LIV Golf League structure. “There is some relegation, but not very much. It all really depends on what new players 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. It's limited field, it's a small field.”

This year’s field that is to begin the 88th Masters on Thursday has 89 players. Five of them are amateurs and 18 are past champions, including several who are no longer competitive.

The majority of the field is comprised of players who were top 50 in the OWGR at the end of 2023 and again two weeks ago along with PGA Tour winners since the last Masters and the top 30 in the final FedEx Cup standings.

The Masters offered three special invitations this year as well, including Joaquin Niemann, who has won two events this year on LIV Golf but also captured last fall’s Australian Open.

The Masters does not give direct spots to any other world tour outside of the PGA Tour, which is why the notion of LIV getting them appeared dubious.

LIV Golf saw its application for world ranking points—which was submitted in July 2022—denied last October. At the time, OWGR chairman Peter Dawson cited the lack of player pathways and turnover as problems with the bid, while acknowledging that LIV’s 54-hole format and smaller fields were not impediments.

“Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, of course they should be in the ranking,” Dawson said of LIV players and past Masters champions who have seen their OWGR place plummet. “We need to find a way to get that done. I hope that LIV can find a solution—not so much their format; that can be dealt with through a mathematical formula—but the qualification and relegation.”

LIV Golf had a Promotions event last year in which three players moved onto the LIV Golf League along with the leader of the International Series, Andy Ogletree—who has qualified for the PGA Championship and the British Open via that circuit which is part of the Asian Tour. It also saw four players relegated from the Tour.

But in adding a team and two wildcard players for this year to bring its total number of players to 54, LIV Golf did not include any kind of weekly qualifying which would lead to turnover. And apparently, OWGR did not see the four-player relegation as enough.

LIV never resubmitted its bid but said last month it was withdrawing it anyway. And players such as Bryson DeChambeau have called for the majors to give spots to LIV directly.

The OWGR board consists of seven members, one each from the major championships.

“We believe that it is a legitimate determiner of who the best players in the game are,” Ridley said. “There's been communication that's been public regarding the LIV 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.”

The OWGR has been criticized as not reflecting the pro game accurately when players such as DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and others are well down the list. Same for Talor Gooch, who won three LIV Golf tournaments last year but has fallen outside of the top 400 in the world. He played in three of the four majors last year.

Niemann, who tied for 16th at the Masters last year, would be in none of the majors in 2024 had he not gone outside of LIV Golf. His victory in Australia got him an automatic spot in the Open and both the Masters and PGA recognized his standing in the game.

“But I think in our case, we're an invitational, and we can adjust as necessary,” Ridley said. “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 we, 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.”

Ridley did not say if he has had any direct conversations with LIV Golf officials. A high-ranking LIV executive is in attendance this week, as are members of the OWGR technical committee, including Cho Minn Thant, who is also the chief executive officer of the Asian Tour, which has seen a 10-year, $300 million investment from LIV Golf for the International Series.


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.