WASHINGTON: Augusta National will open their doors to LIV Golf's biggest names, confirming on Tuesday that players from the breakaway tour will be eligible to compete in the 2023 Masters if they meet the established qualifying criteria. The decision will be viewed as a major victory for the Saudi-backed series with the PGA Tour having suspended players jumping across to the rebel circuit.
LIV Golf has lured away some of the U.S.-based PGA Tour's top players with huge sums of money, leading to a simmering feud within the sport. "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. Although we are disappointed in these developments," said Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley in a statement.
"Our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming April. "We have reached a seminal point in the history of our sport, At Augusta National, we have faith that golf, which has overcome many challenges through the years, will endure again."
Under current criteria LIV's marquee names, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Charl Schwartzel will all tee it up April 6-9 at Augusta National qualifying for the year's first major as past Masters champions which comes with a lifetime exemption. British Open champion Cameron Smith, former U.S. Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka and former U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau will also receive invitations with winners of the three other majors earning five-year Masters exemptions.
The Masters criteria also includes the top 50 in the official world golf rankings (OWGR) at the end of 2022 which currently includes LIV defectors Abraham Ancer, Talor Gooch, Harold Varner III, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen. Ridley lamented the divisions within the sport at the moment and did not rule out amending the club's qualifying criteria in the future.
The British Open has indicated LIV golfers who meet qualifying standards will be welcome while the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship have not yet confirmed their entry criteria. "As we have said in the past, we look at every aspect of the Tournament each year, and any modifications or changes to invitation criteria for future tournaments will be announced in April," said Ridley.
Critics maintain that LIV Golf, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, amounts to "sportswashing" by a nation trying to improve its reputation in the face of criticism over its human rights record. The 9/11 Families United, an advocacy group comprised of family members and survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Center, issued a statement urging Augusta National to re-consider their decision.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001 were from Saudi Arabia. However, the kingdom has long denied a role in the attacks on the Twin Towers, which killed nearly 3,000 people. "On behalf of 9/11 Families United, we are calling on Augusta National to reconsider their open-door policy to the LIV golfers," the 9/11 Families in a statement.
"If they are welcomed with open arms, we will be at their front door to protest in April."