Augusta – Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman was not invited to the Masters because he would have distracted from the tournament, making clear his body stands firmly with the PGA Tour in golf’s divide.
In his annual pre-Masters news conference, Ridley praised the “tone” taken by golfers from both sides of the sport’s split during the build-up to the tournament, which gets under way on Thursday, but there was no disguising where his and Augusta’s loyalties lie.
“We did not extend an invitation to Mr Norman,” Ridley said. “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.
“I would also add that, in the last 10 years, Greg Norman has only been here twice, and I believe one of those was as a commentator for Sirius Radio. It really was to keep the focus on the competition.”
The heads of golf’s established tours, the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour, are both in Augusta for the tournament along with officials from the R&A club and the US Golf Association and the USPGA.
Norman, the public face of the Saudi-backed breakaway series which has 18 golfers in this year’s Masters, had described the snub as “petty”.
As for whether Australian Norman, who won two British Open titles, could be invited in the future, Ridley said the door was not closed forever but hardly offered an olive branch.
“It’s hard to answer that question because 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.”
Augusta National, like other major sanctioning bodies, has allowed LIV players to compete this year based on their qualification process.
But with LIV competitions not recognised by the Official World Golf Rankings, it is going to be increasingly difficult for LIV players to qualify for the majors.
There are at least two ongoing legal cases relating to the LIV-PGA Tour conflict, which include questions over whether the rankings system is fair to LIV golfers or if it is unfair and anti-competitive.
Augusta National is part of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) organisation along with the established tour governing bodies.
Ridley said Augusta National was committed to the existing ranking system and using it for Masters invitations.
“Our conclusion for the time being is that the Official World Golf Rankings, it’s a really good way to invite players,” he said. “It’s an objective criteria based on data-driven analytics, and it’s consistently applied.
“I think most would agree it’s a good system.”
Ridley didn’t quite keep to the ceasefire that most players have been observing, expressing “some disappointment that these players were taking the platform that had been given to them” by LIV and “perhaps not thinking about who might come behind them”, but he attempted to maintain the mood that has accompanied Masters week so far.
Players from both sides of the divide, such as the PGA Tour’s Rory McIlroy and LIV Golf’s Brooks Koepka, have practised with each other on the course and refrained from the personal attacks which have accompanied the bitter divide.
Ridley said he hoped that mood might carry over after the Masters.
“I’m hopeful. I’ve noticed a tone – 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.”
Source : IOL