AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National Golf Club chair Fred Ridley confirmed that LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman wasn’t invited to attend the 87th Masters this week.
Ridley said the decision was made to ensure that attention focused on the tournament and players rather than on LIV Golf’s ongoing rift with the PGA Tour.
“We did not extend an invitation to Mr. Norman,” Ridley said during a news conference Wednesday. “The primary issue and the driver there is that I want the focus this week to be on the Masters competition, on the great players that are participating, the greatest players in the world, which, by our decision in December, we ensured that we were going to honor and be consistent with our invitation criteria.”
Ridley said Norman, a former world No. 1 golfer who was a three-time runner-up in the Masters, had attended the tournament only twice in the past 10 years and had worked as an analyst for Sirius XM Radio one of those weeks.
Norman called Augusta National’s decision not to invite him “petty” in an interview with The Telegraph of London this week. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley are attending the Masters.
“Funnily enough, I haven’t been invited,” Norman said. “As a major winner I always was before, but they only sent me a grounds pass last year and nothing, zilch, this time around. I’m disappointed because it’s so petty, but of course, I’ll still be 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 quash competition and of colluding with the majors and golf’s governing bodies. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation dragged Augusta National into the mess.
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 years from now,” Ridley said. “But as I stated, I would never say never. But I told you why he had not been invited this year.”
Ridley said the tension between some PGA Tour members and LIV Golf players seems to have subsided this week, as players from both sides seem focused on the first major championship of the season.
“The tone has been really good here this week,” Ridley said. “I’ve noticed the players are interacting. Last night at the Champions Dinner, I would not have known that anything was going on in the world of professional golf other than the norm. So I think, and I’m hopeful, that this week might get people thinking in a little bit different direction and things will change.”
Augusta National Golf Club did announce a couple of qualifying changes for the 2024 tournament, including an exemption for the current NCAA Division I men’s individual champion. Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent, the reigning NCAA champion, is playing this week on a special invitation. He is the first amateur to receive a special invitation since Australia’s Aaron Baddeley in 2000.
“As it relates to the NCAA champion, as I stated, that is a major amateur championship and I thought it was time that we acknowledged it,” Ridley said. “And we couldn’t be happier to have Gordon here this week. He’s a fine young man and a heck of a player. We are codifying that now going forward.”
The NCAA women’s individual champion will qualify for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Two other qualifying changes for 2024 are related to the PGA Tour. They basically ensure that the winners of fall tournaments with a full allocation of points will earn a spot in the Masters and that players who compete in the season-ending Tour Championship will also have to be eligible to play under PGA Tour rules to qualify for the Masters.
Talor Gooch qualified for the Tour Championship last year but wasn’t allowed to compete because Monahan had suspended him for playing in LIV Golf events without a conflicting-event release. Gooch would have otherwise qualified for the Masters because he was in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of last year.
“We do look at our qualifications every year, but there are changes,” Ridley said. “Things are evolving, and we need to make sure that we are flexible in that regard. So I’m sure there will be changes in the future, but none 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 to require elite men’s players to use a golf ball with limits on how far it is hit, reducing distances by about 14 to 15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds.
The new rules, which would not affect recreational players, would take effect in January 2026 if adopted. The governing bodies are receiving feedback until Aug. 14.
“I think, in a general sense, we do support the proposal, but because it’s in the middle of a comment period, it could change,” Ridley said. “The whole purpose of the comment period is to take the input from the industry. So we will look at the final product and make a decision. But generally we have always been supportive of the governing bodies. I’ve stated that we believe distance needs to be addressed. I think the natural conclusion is, yes, we will be supportive.”
Ridley noted that when he competed in the Masters from 1976 to 1978, the length of the Augusta National course was about 6,900 yards. It will play at 7,545 yards this week.
“When Tiger Woods won the tournament in 1997 for the first time, it was about that distance [6,900 yards],” Ridley said. “It wasn’t until a few years later that, you know, the distance was increased: I think once, maybe a year after in ’98, and then more particularly and significantly in 2002. I think what’s happened since then is, while those appeared to be sort of very significant changes, and they were at the time, but over the years, players have gotten stronger. Their swings have become more efficient. The equipment has gotten better. And so it didn’t take long, if at all, to catch up to those changes.”