During a press conference at the 2022 Masters, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley was questioned about the emergence of “rival golf leagues,” but he didn’t quite get out his flamethrower.
What are your thoughts about that? Bob Harig of SI.com questioned Ridley about the threat posed by new tours. At the time, LIV Golf was the most well-known of these, having already announced an eight-tournament calendar for 2022 but without any confirmed signees. “Have you discussed players’ potential participation in such leagues with any of them? Would you disagree with that? And if they took that route, would it even prevent them from being invited here?
Full Ridley’s response: “Let me begin by saying that our goal is always to act in the game’s best interests, no matter what that may entail. I believe that golf is doing well right now. There is more involvement. The professional tours are offering the highest purses ever. I believe that clubs and courses are in sound financial standing.
“The youth who are rising at a competitive level is really wonderful,” said the speaker. The top four players in the world, after all, are young people. Seven of the top ten are, in my opinion, under 30.
“We have made it quite plain that we think the world tours have done a tremendous job over the years of promoting the game. Beyond that, there is so much that is unknown about what might or might not occur that I’m not sure, Bob, that I could say much more.
But according to claims in a lawsuit brought this week by 11 LIV Golf signees, Ridley could have said more because by early April, the club, Augusta National, was allegedly not only well aware of the threat that LIV Golf posed to the PGA Tour, but it had also already taken significant steps to try to thwart the fledgling league.
According to the complaint, Augusta National staff allegedly threatened to reject players from The Masters if they signed up for LIV Golf in February. In addition, certain 2022 Masters competitors received special instructions from Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley not to compete in the LIV Golf Invitational Series. These threats against professional athletes were obviously ineffective because they would simply serve to reduce the strength of the Masters field.
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson didn’t appear to be one of the players who Augusta National allegedly intimidated, according to the complaint, which doesn’t list them.
By Masters week, Mickelson had not yet made it known that he intended to sign with LIV Golf, but it was assumed that he was on the LIV short list. He was also in the news because he had made it known that he intended to use LIV to acquire influence on the PGA Tour. Mickelson left the PGA Tour as a result of the backlash to his remarks.
Ridley responded that the club “did not disinvite Phil” when questioned about Mickelson’s absence from the 2022 Masters in that same Masters-week press conference.
I believe Phil contacted me in late February or early March to inform me that he would not be playing, Ridley recalled. “That was done through text. I also thanked him for being so kind as to inform me. He thanked me, and we had a really courteous interaction. I told him that we absolutely appreciated that and, you know, that I was certainly willing to talk that further with him if he’d like.
Would Mickelson have been barred from the event if he hadn’t voluntarily withdrawn? It’s a fair query, but one that Augusta National doesn’t appear to be eager to respond to.
When contacted for comment about that matter or other specific inquiries about the claims mentioned in the lawsuit, the club chose not to answer.
Another valid query is why Mickelson showed up at the first LIV Golf event in London with a vest bearing an Augusta National emblem, especially in light of the claimed LIV offence by Augusta National. Was there a less-than-subtle dig at the club? Naturally, Mickelson should answer that question, not Augusta National.
If Ridley was willing to speak with Mickelson when LIV was taking shape, the complaint claims that the chairman was not receptive to speaking with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman. According to the complaint, when Norman requested a meeting with Ridley to explain “LIV Golf’s business model and discuss how LIV Golf could operate in the existing professional golf world, Mr. Ridley declined the invitation, another example of LIV Golf trying to work with existing golf entities and being rejected before even getting to show them what LIV Golf is all about.”
The complaint asserts that Augusta National persisted in attempting to sway players’ choices towards joining with LIV even after the Masters had ended. The lawsuit asserts that the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council convened an urgent meeting at which Augusta National personnel were present not long after LIV released the field for its first event. “They notified the golfers present that the PGA Tour and Augusta National had decided to collaborate to handle LIV Golf,” the complaint continues. As previously mentioned, the Tour’s arsenal of tools to discourage players from joining LIV Golf includes the prospect of expulsion from the Masters (and the other Majors).
If that assertion is accurate, it’s significant because Augusta National hasn’t explicitly criticised or distanced itself from LIV Golf in public. If the club has been collaborating with the PGA Tour as closely as the lawsuit claims, it would imply that Augusta National could be inclined to forbid or decline to invite contracted LIV players to the 2023 Masters.
Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel, and Bubba Watson are the six green-jacket winners who have already signed with LIV. It’s unclear how many more may do so in the future. The tournament’s mystique and appeal as well as the players would all suffer if that group were to be excluded from the following year’s competition. Scottie Scheffler would likely walk away with the smallest Champions Dinner tab in recent memory.
What about the LIV athletes who haven’t won a Masters title before? They must meet the requirements based on their position in the globe.
Given that LIV has not yet been approved by the Official World Golf Ranking, this is gradually becoming a problem for those players. LIV submitted an application for accreditation on July 6. However, the procedure can take up to two years, thus Masters hopefuls receiving LIV money might theoretically be prevented from competing until 2024. Oh, and for what it’s worth, Augusta National does indeed have influence at the OWGR, since Buzzy Johnson, the senior director of the Masters, holds a place on the organization’s governing body.
Although Augusta National has a minor role in the 105-page complaint from the LIV players, the claims within offer a unique window into the club’s disproportionate power in the game’s elite echelons.
In fact, the case claims that Augusta National indirectly affected LIV’s marketing initiatives.
According to the lawsuit, “LIV Golf attempted to order personalised hats through the American Needle hat firm and American Needle advised LIV Golf that it does not want to do business with LIV Golf because of its ties with the PGA Tour and Augusta National.”