Mark SchlapachSenior writer for ESPN5 minutes to read
AUGUSTA, GA — Augusta National Golf Club President Fred Ridley confirmed that LIV Golf CEO and Commissioner Greg Norman was not invited to the 87th Masters Tournament this week.
Ridley said the decision was made to ensure that attention this week focused on the tournament and the players rather than LIV Golf’s ongoing feud with the PGA Tour.
“We did not extend an invitation to Mr. Norman,” Ridley said during a news conference Wednesday. “The main issue and the driver there is that I want to focus this week on the Masters, on the great players involved, the greatest players in the world, which, with our decision in December, we made sure that we were going to respect and live up to the standards of our invitation.”
Norman, a former world No. 1 golfer who was a three-time runner-up at the Masters, has only attended the tournament twice in the past 10 years and worked as an analyst for Sirius XM radio one of those weeks, Ridley said.
Norman called Augusta National’s decision not to invite him “frivolous” in an interview with the London Telegraph earlier this week. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and DP World Tour CEO Keith Bailey attend the Masters Tournament.
“It’s funny, I wasn’t invited,” Norman said. “As a big winner I’ve always been before, but they only sent me a pass last year and nothing, nothing, this time. I’m disappointed it’s so petty, but of course, I’m still watching.”
LIV Golf and a handful of its players filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last year, accusing it of using its monopoly power to crush competition and colluding with major corporations and golf’s governing bodies. An investigation by the US Department of Justice has thrown Augusta National into chaos.
Norman suggested to the media in his native Australia that he would never be invited back to the Masters. Ridley wasn’t ready to go that far.
“It’s hard to answer that question because, you know, I don’t know where the world is going to be next year or two,” said Ridley. “But like I mentioned, I’ll never say. But I did tell you why he wasn’t invited this year.”
There are 18 LIV Golf players competing in the Masters Tournament this week, including former champions Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Charl Schwartzl and Sergio Garcia.
Ridley said the tension between some PGA Tour members and LIV Golf players appears to have subsided this week, as players on both sides appear focused on their first major championship of the season.
“The tone has been really good here this week,” Ridley said. “I noticed the players reacting. Last night at the Champions Dinner, I wouldn’t have known that anything was going on in the world of professional golf other than normal. So I think, and I hope, this week might get people thinking in a slightly different direction and things will change.”
Augusta National Golf Club has announced some qualifying changes for the 2024 tournament, including exempting the current NCAA Division I men’s singles champion. Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent, the reigning NCAA champion, is playing this week by special invitation. He is the first amateur to receive a special invitation since Australian Aaron Baddeley in 2000.
“In terms of the NCAA championship, as I mentioned, this is a major amateur championship and I think it’s time to recognize it,” Ridley said. “And we couldn’t be happier to have Gordon here this week. He’s such a good guy and heck of a player. We’re now taking note of that for the future.”
Two other qualifying changes for 2024 are related to the PGA Tour. They essentially guarantee that the winners of the fall tournaments with a full points allocation will earn a spot in the Masters and that players who compete in the season-ending Tour tournament will also be eligible to play under PGA Tour rules to qualify for the Masters.
Talor Gooch qualified for the Tour Championship last year but was not allowed to compete because Monahan suspended him to play in LIV Golf events without a conflicting event issue. Otherwise, Gooch would have qualified for the Masters because he was in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of last year.
“We look at our qualifications every year, but there are changes,” Ridley said. “Things are evolving, and we need to make sure we are flexible in that regard. So I’m sure there will be changes in the future, but nothing beyond what I announced this morning.”
Ridley also weighed in on the club’s position regarding a proposed rule from the United States Golf Association and R&A that would allow tours and tournaments the option of requiring elite men’s players to use a golf ball with limits on how far it can be hit, reducing distances by about 14 to 15-yard average for the tallest hitters with the highest clubhead velocities.
The new rules, which will not affect recreational players, will take effect in January 2026 if adopted. The governing bodies receive their feedback through August 14.
“I think, in general, we support the proposal, but because it’s in the middle of the comment period, it could change,” Ridley said. “The whole purpose of the comment period is to take input from the industry. So we’ll look at the final product and make a decision. But overall we’ve always been supportive of the governing bodies. I mentioned that we think the distance needs to be addressed. I think the corollary is, yeah, we’ll be supportive.” .
Ridley noted that when he competed in the Masters from 1976 to 1978, the Augusta National course was about 6,900 yards long. You will be playing 7,545 yards this week.
When Tiger Woods won the championship in 1997 for the first time, it was about that distance [6,900 yards]said Ridley. It wasn’t until a few years later, you know, the distance increased: I think once, maybe a year later in 1998, and then particularly and more importantly in 2002. I think what’s happened since then, while those changes were kind of A very significant change, and it was at the time, but over the years, the players have become stronger. Their swings became more efficient. The equipment has improved. And so it didn’t take long, after all, to catch up with these changes.”
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