The ongoing battle between the PGA Tour and the breakaway LIV Golf League continues to be one of the biggest storylines in men’s professional golf, but past Masters champions Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson insist it won’t be a distraction at Augusta National Golf Club next week.
Speaking to reporters ahead of this week’s LIV Golf League tournament at Orange County National in Orlando, Florida, Reed said Wednesday that the first major championship of the season won’t be about the competing circuits.
Augusta National Golf Club elected to keep the same qualifying criteria it used in the past to determine the field for the 87th Masters. There are 18 players in the 89-man field from the LIV Golf League, including four other past champions: Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Charl Schwartzel.
“Obviously, the media and the storylines are going to be obviously LIV versus PGA Tour and all that kind of stuff, but really, at the majors, top players in the world are going and playing against each other no matter where they come from,” Reed said. “For us, at least for myself, it’s going to be business as usual going out and playing.”
Reed, who won a green jacket in 2018, said having a LIV Golf League player win the Masters would bring credibility to the circuit, which is in its second season.
“Of course, would I like to have LIV be up at the top? Of course,” Reed said. “But really, at the end of the day, it’s all of us going in there and just trying to play the best golf we can and be ready for the four biggest weeks of the year.”
Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, is expected to make his return after skipping the event last year for the first time since 1994. Masters chairman Fred Ridley told reporters last year that Mickelson opted not to play, and wasn’t disinvited, after his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian financiers of the LIV Golf League were published.
Watson, a two-time Masters winner, said he recently played practice rounds at Augusta National. Reed was there last week with Johnson and Harold Varner III, another LIV Golf player who qualified by finishing in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking last year.
“I’m going to be honest, man,” Watson said. “It’s only awkward in the media. I’ve talked to people that are going to be there. I’m going to sign up with Jason Day and [Cameron] Young in the Par 3. Some guys have already asked me to play some practice rounds.
“Media is the only one that is pushing it. I have nothing against anybody. If you change jobs, I’m not mad at you. If you start reporting for somebody else, hey, man, it’s a better decision for you and your family. Have at it.”
“We see each other quite a bit,” Koepka said. “I mean, there’s a lot of conversations. I was talking with Rory for probably about 30 minutes just about the ball and all the other stuff that’s going on. No one is angry at anybody from what I’ve seen.”
McIlroy has been among the most outspoken critics of the LIV Golf League, which filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour filed a countersuit against LIV Golf, alleging it interfered with its contracts with players. A trial is scheduled to begin in January.
“Protecting his entity, man,” Watson said of McIlroy. “He’s protecting his business, which is fine.”
“But I also don’t think that means anything personal with any of us,” Koepka said.
Watson insists he won’t carry an “us versus them” attitude to Augusta National.
“No, I’m trying to beat them all,” Watson said.