WASHINGTON (AFP) — LIV Golf League players will be able to compete in next year’s Masters after Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said Tuesday the event will keep “current criteria” for 2023 entrants.
Without mentioning the Saudi-backed upstart series by name, Ridley expressed disappointment with golf’s ongoing divide caused by LIV luring away top PGA Tour talent with record prize money for 54-hole events.
“Regrettably, recent actions have divided men’s professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it,” Ridley said.
“Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming April.”
“Therefore, as invitations are sent this week, we will invite those eligible under our current criteria to compete in the 2023 Masters tournament.”
Of 78 players currently qualified for the 2023 Masters, 16 are LIV Golf members.
Six former Masters champions playing on the LIV circuit are set for next year’s first major golf showdown at the historic venue.
They include Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters winner and six-time major champion who was the first top player to push LIV Golf forward.
Other past Masters winners in LIV Golf eligible to return in 2023 include fellow Americans Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson plus Spaniard Sergio Garcia and South African Charl Schwartzel.
World No. 3 Cameron Smith of Australia, the reigning British Open champion, is also among other LIV players who have qualified under the current criteria.
Americans Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka qualify based on major triumphs within the past five years and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann has also locked up a spot.
“I believe they made the right decision,” DeChambeau told The Golf Channel.
“This Masters will be one of the most exciting Masters in many years.”
The decision will bring the PGA-LIV split into sharp focus from 6 to 9 April at Augusta National, where stars from the rival circuits could be paired with one another, some with hard feelings over the divide that has fractured the sport.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and 15-time major champion Tiger Woods have been among the most outspoken LIV critics.
LIV players in this year’s final world golf rankings top 50 will also qualify for the Masters. That should seal Augusta tee times for South African Louis Oosthuizen, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Americans Kevin Na, Jason Kokrak, Talor Gooch and Harold Varner.
Other LIV Golf players can qualify by reaching the world golf rankings top 50 in the week before next year’s Masters.
The PGA Tour has banned LIV Golf players from its events. LIV players have competed in DP World Tour and Asian Tour events where they can pick up ranking points.
LIV Golf tournaments have not been granted Official World Golf Ranking points. LIV is fighting the situation but its top players could slide down the rankings and miss qualifying criteria of future majors.
Ridley said any future changes to Masters entry criteria would be revealed in April.
LIV Golf talent was allowed to compete in last year’s US and British Opens following the launch of the series, which received criticism over Saudi Arabian human rights issues.
“We have reached a seminal point in the history of our sport,” Ridley said. “At Augusta National, we have faith that golf, which has overcome many challenges through the years, will endure again.”
A protest is already in the works by 9/11 Families United, a relatives group of those killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Members protested at LIV events this year.
“We are calling on Augusta National to reconsider their open-door policy to the LIV golfers,” a statement from the group said.