AUGUSTA, Ga. — So let’s say you are Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters. You were one of the most powerful people in golf even before the PGA Tour and LIV Golf erupted into a feud that divided the sport.
Now, you may control everything.
By setting the qualification criteria for your venerable tournament, one that even LIV devotee Phil Mickelson calls his “favorite,” you have enormous influence over the ability of each tour to recruit and retain top talent.
You can do nothing and hand the PGA a long-term advantage by making it very difficult for LIV players to play at the biggest and most famous tournament in the world. For some players, no amount of LIV money can make up for that.
Or you can change criteria and make it easier for LIV players to qualify, handing it an advantage in luring players even if you personally don’t like LIV or its commissioner, Greg Norman. The reason for doing so is simple. LIV has some of the best players in the world and the Masters is supposed to be about bringing them together. Honoring that mission is paramount.
Essentially it’s about whether you care more about the institution of the PGA Tour or the institution of the Masters.
“I had the privilege of being a member, a partner in a law firm that’s 180 years old, and we exist today because of many generations of lawyers who thought it was important to leave our organization better than they found it,” Ridley said Wednesday, speaking to his mindset.
There are currently 19 ways to qualify for the Masters, everything from being a former champion (lifetime) to winning the Latin American Amateur (one year). There are 88 players in the field this year, including 18 who currently play for LIV.
The most accessible path to the Masters is to be among the top 50 of the World Golf Rankings. Those rankings, however, do not recognize LIV events because they are just 54 holes and contain no cut.
That means those 18 LIV golfers will quickly fade off — just nine are guaranteed to be in the Masters field next year and eight the year after.
There are the six former champions who are set for life — Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson. Three others are in the midst of five-year exemptions because they won recent major championships — Brooks Koepka (ends in 2024), Bryson DeChambeau (2025) and Cam Smith (2027).
Any young up-and-comer or current PGA player considering a jump to LIV would have to do so with the understanding that they are likely giving up on Augusta.
Listen to Ridley talk about golf’s civil war and you can easily ascertain that he would like to take that position. He holds clear animosity to LIV commissioner Greg Norman and declined to invite him to this year’s Masters in an effort to stop Norman from creating a media circus that would overshadow the competition.
And Ridley spent considerable time Wednesday lecturing LIV golfers about appreciating what the PGA Tour provided them and how “at a high level, [I] don’t necessarily agree with” their choice to leave.
“The platform that these players have built their careers on were based on the blood, sweat and tears of their predecessors, people like Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods,” Ridley said. “… It is appropriate that today’s players, all players, pause to respect and appreciate the opportunities made possible by the heroes and champions who went before them … [and] serve the game of golf and benefit the next generation.”
Without specifically saying it, Ridley sounded firmly on the PGA’s side. And, again, by not altering the qualification criteria, he can apply a sizable amount of pressure on the battle.
But what about the Masters?
Is the Masters still the Masters if some of the best in the world can’t reasonably qualify? It’s a thin roster at LIV right now (mostly end-of-their-career types). But what if another top young talent follows, say Cam Smith, but is left out of Augusta?
What responsibility do Ridley and the other members here have to the competitive sanctity of the Masters compared to the long-term health of the PGA Tour? Is going beyond the World Golf Rankings actually the right thing to do for the tournament?
“Yeah, we actually have discussed that, and that may well be something we do in the future,” Ridley said. “We really want to make sure that the Masters Tournament field is representative of the best players in the world, so we are constantly looking at those possibilities.”
Right now, Ridley and Augusta seem content to see how this plays out. He spoke about how the rhetoric between the two sides had settled down here this week, replaced by a measure of camaraderie.
“I’m hopeful that this week might get people thinking in a little bit different direction,” Ridley said.
The only change to the 2024 qualifying is that the NCAA champion will now receive a spot in the field. By next April, the LIV contingent could be halved and Augusta will reevaluate its position. Maybe.
“Things are evolving, and we need to make sure that we are flexible in that regard,” Ridley said. “So I’m sure there will be changes in the future.”
What those are and when they might come could change the course of the LIV-PGA battle, and the Masters itself.
So you’re Fred Ridley. What would you do?