The Masters has decided that rebels on the LIV Golf circuit will be allowed to tee up at Augusta in April after opting against a ban.
In what will be seen as a big win for the Saudi-backed breakaway series, the likes of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau will all be among at least 15 LIVs attending golf’s most famous tournament in April.
The decision comes amid an ongoing war between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, after a string of top names defected to the new series earlier this year.
Phil Mickelson (left), who won the Masters in 2004, 2006 and 2010, will play again in 2023
The master organizers chose to ban players who turned away from LIV Golf
In a statement released Tuesday, Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley said: ‘Unfortunately, recent actions have divided men’s professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the significant legacies of its builders.
‘While we are disappointed by these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a distinguished field of golfers this coming April.
‘Therefore, as invitations are sent out this week, we will invite those eligible under our current criteria to compete in the 2023 Masters Tournament. As we’ve said in the past, we look at every aspect of the Tournament each year, and any changes or changes to the invitation criteria for future Tournaments will be announced in April.
‘We have reached an important point in the history of our sport. At Augusta National, we believe that golf, which has overcome many challenges over the years, will endure again.’
In other words, at least 15 players currently competing on the LIV Golf circuit will be part of the field at Augusta National.
Past Masters champions Mickelson, Johnson, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Spain’s Sergio Garcia, and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel are among that group.
Australia’s Cameron Smith will receive an invitation after winning the 2022 Open Championship, while DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka are allowed to head to Augusta by virtue of winning the US Open in the past five years.
LIV Golf, led by Greg Norman (right), has created a divide in the middle of golf
The Masters is among the most historic and storied sporting competitions in the world
At Augusta National, we believe that golf, which has overcome many challenges over the years, will endure again
Masters chairman Fred Ridley
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann qualified for the event by being in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings before leaving the PGA Tour in September.
South Africa’s Talor Gooch, Harold Varner III, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen reside in the top 50 in the current Official World Golf Ranking.
Ahead of The Masters decision, there was considerable uncertainty over whether the divide between golfers was so strong that LIV rebels would turn away from the majors in 2023.
The decision to allow them to compete is a huge boost for the likes of Smith – the LIV Golfer and current Open champion – who has previously spoken of his desperation to continue playing in the four biggest tournaments of the year.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year, the world No. 3: ‘I think the majors really need to stand up to all politics.
Cameron Smith, who won The Open in 2022, has spoken about his desire to play in the majors
Spaniard Sergio Garcia is another LIV Golf defector who will be allowed to play at Augusta
‘If they really want the best product and the best players playing against each other in the world, they have to let us play. No reason other than playing another tour should suggest we shouldn’t play.
‘We are definitely enough players. We should have those places.’
The Masters became the second of the four major tournaments to announce its position on LIV golfers competing, after The Open Championship confirmed it would not ‘ban anyone’ from playing in the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool.
That said, The Open is not clear on what limitations may exist in their eligibility criteria.
The Masters has made its decision, with only the PGA Championship and US Open remaining in its place.
But the decision was criticized by the organization 9/11 Families United, which said in a statement: ‘After 9/11, our nation agreed to ‘Never Forget’ that terrible day.
‘The only reason the Saudis launched LIV was to try to make the world forget who they were and what they did, including their role in 9/11. Anyone who truly vows to “never forget” should be appalled at these players’ decision to put money before their own country.
‘On behalf of 9/11 Families United, we are calling on Augusta National to reconsider its open-door policy to LIV golfers. If they are welcome, we will be on their doorstep protesting in April.’
Rory McIlroy, a vocal critic of the breakaway LIV Tour, celebrates after hitting a bunker shot on the 18th hole at Augusta National in last year’s Masters tournament.
Tiger Woods is another PGA Tour pro who has been vocal in his criticism of LIV Golf
Those four tournaments are separate from the main circuit of the PGA Tour, which has been very vocal in its criticism of the breakaway tour, with the pair in something of a sporting civil war since LIV’s conception.
Norman has been the polarizing head — acting as CEO and Commissioner — of the Saudi-backed circuit and has received barbs from Tour figureheads, not least Tiger Woods and McIlroy.
In an interview, he labeled McIlroy ‘brainwashed’ by the PGA Tour, which led to the Northern Irishman’s decision to become a thorn in his rival’s side.
‘I thought, “You know what? I’m going to make it my business now to hurt his a**e as much as possible,”‘ McIlroy told the Irish Independent.