Augusta National chairman on LIV players: ‘We’re an invitational’

Augusta National chairman Fred S. Ridley addressed the elephant in the room Wednesday in regard to extending special invitations to LIV golfers should they be warranted.

While the Masters hasn’t announced its qualification criteria for next year’s tournament, Ridley was quick to note the tournament’s use of the Official World Golf Ranking as a “legitimate determiner of who the best players in the game are.”

“There’s been communication that’s been public regarding, you know, the LIV’s application, which it subsequently was withdrawn after some remedial suggestions were made regarding pathways and access to players and concern about some of the aspects of team golf,” Ridley said.

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

Case in point: Joaquin Niemann. The 25-year-old Chilean received a special invitation due, in part, to his two LIV victories this season.

“We felt that Joaquin had not only a great record coming up to this year, but after his season, you know, 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.”

Niemann is one of 13 LIV Golf members competing at Augusta National Golf Club this week. Former Masters champions Jon Rahm of Spain, countryman Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and Phil Mickelson are included in that group.

“Now, historically, and as stated in our qualification criteria, we consider international players for special invitations,” Ridley said. “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.”

When asked about the notion of LIV golfers receiving direct access to majors based off merit or a series of tournaments, Ridley said he wasn’t sure how to answer the question.

“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,” he said. “There are some — there is some relegation, but not very much. It all really depends on what new player they sign.

“So, and those concerns were expressed by the OWGR, but I don’t think — and, again, I’m repeating myself a little bit, but I don’t think that that prevents us from giving subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance to those players.”