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Masters, Open execs reject latest ideas that would create a path for LIV golfers into the majors

October 25, 2023

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley during the presentation ceremony of the 2023 Masters.

Ross Kinnaird

MELBOURNE, Australia — Based on the responses to questions about the status of LIV golfers in major championships put to Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley and R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers on Thursday in Australia, it does not appear LIV members will be given a special category into the Masters and Open Championship in 2024.

Earlier this month, the LIV league was denied an application for Official World Golf Ranking points based on its team element and lack of promotion/relegation. LIV’s star players, such as Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, then called for a category to be made to ensure LIV’s players are not frozen out of golf’s four majors as their world rankings continue to plummet. DeChambeau called for the top 12 on LIV’s money list to be exempt into the majors, and LIV’s acting COO Gary Davidson (they have since appointed a new COO) said the league was in early discussions with organizers of two of the majors about the pathways into the tournaments.

Asked whether the Masters and the Open would create such exemptions for 2024, Slumbers brought up a recent media report suggesting talks were already underway to specifically include LIV golfers, and he rejected that notion.

“There's been some speculation in the media recently on the topic that you're raising,” Slumbers said at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne. “I would say that it is completely off the mark. I would like to make it very clear that exemptions for the Open, we do not discuss them with anyone and nor would we at any point in time. I think it's very important that you don't lose sight of the fact that the Open is intended to be open to everybody; that you earn your place in the field, through exemptions, and that won't change.”

The Open differs from the Masters in that it actively runs qualifying events, both at PGA Tour and DP World Tour events around the world via its Open Qualifying Series, as well as 36-hole final qualifying tournaments. The Masters is an invitational with criteria and special exemptions for entrants.

Ridley said the criteria for invitations to the 2024 Masters, which will use the OWGR’s top 50 by certain dates, are not likely to be tweaked other than three changes revealed at Augusta National in April this year. They are: an official invitation to the NCAA Division I champion; players who qualified for the PGA Tour’s 2023 season-ending Tour Championship; and winners of full-point PGA Tour events this fall.

However, Ridley did leave the door open for future revisions.

“If you look back over the history of the Masters tournament, and the qualifications that existed, we have changed those qualifications in numerous times, dozens of times,” Ridley said. “We look at those every year. We don't make changes every year, but we do look at them under the current circumstances. As you'll recall last year, there was some speculation as to whether or not we would invite LIV golfers. We stayed true to our qualification criteria. We invited everyone who was eligible.

“While we do not, at this time, anticipate making a change in 2024, we do always look at [criteria], and we will continue to do that. Our qualifications are very much dynamic, and we adjust to what we feel is in the best interest of a tournament representing the best players in the world. We’ll always look at that.”

Without access to OWGR points, LIV players’ rankings have suffered. Cameron Smith left the PGA Tour ranked World No. 2 and is now 19th. Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson dropped from 13th to 131st, and DeChambeau has gone from 29th to 140th. However, the trio are recent major winners and remain eligible for the majors.

Others aren’t so fortunate. Talor Gooch, who has dropped from 35th to 214th in the OWGR, was eligible for the PGA Tour’s finale last year, but was banned for having left for LIV. This year, the Oklahoma native has won three LIV Golf tournaments and claimed the $18 million season-long individual points title.

Asked if they felt it was unfortunate that LIV players such as Gooch will continue to fall down the rankings and lose pathways to the majors, Ridley and Slumbers reiterated the best interests of their tournaments would be the focus.

“They [LIV golfers] made decisions based on what they thought was in the best interests of their golf careers,” Ridley said. “… Our invitation criteria does say that we reserve the right to issue special exemptions to international players, [and] we did issue a special exemption to an [American] amateur and NCAA champion last year [Gordon Sargent]. So, we're always looking at that. But these decisions have been made and will have to do with what’s in the best interest of the Masters."

Added Slumbers: “From my perspective, without getting into detail, we make sure there are plenty of opportunities for any player in the world, who has [played] good enough, to have a chance to qualify and play in the Open Championship, irrespective of which tour they are participating on and that will not change.”