Greg Norman returns to the Masters as a ticketed Augusta National fan

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Greg Norman has competed in the Masters 23 times. He finished in the top five eight times and was runner-up three times. His play on his 1981 debut here is what inspired his nickname “Great White Shark.” But he had never experienced Augusta National Golf Club the way he did Wednesday.

Norman, the general manager of LIV Golf, was like every other ticketed patron during the practice round, jostling through the crowd and coming off the ropes as he watched the players prepare for the practice round. opening on Thursday.

“Walking around here today, there’s not a single person who said to me, ‘Why did you do LIV?’ ” he said in a brief interview about the course. “There have been hundreds of people, including security guards, stopping me and saying, ‘Hey, what you’re doing is fantastic.’ To me, that means what we have and the platform fits into the ecosystem, and that’s good for golf.

LIV’s presence at the Masters added intrigue to the storied tournament and sparked questions on the field. Thirteen of the 89 players participating in this year’s event are from the LIV Tour, a number that would surely be higher if LIV events were recognized by the Official World Golf Ranking. Past champions, such as Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson, are automatically invited to compete, but several LIV golfers who are having good seasons had no path to Augusta National, including Abraham Ancer, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen and Talor Gooch.

“There are probably a few that have been overlooked that should be included,” Norman said. “What is this number?” I’m not going to give a definitive number, but these are definitely quality players who have had incredible performances over the last six to nine months and are worth it.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Fred Ridley, president of Augusta National, reiterated that LIV Golf did not meet the OWGR’s standards for recognition, but said the Masters would extend “special invitations” to all players exceptional LIVs, regardless of their world ranking. .

“If we felt that there were one or more players, whether they played on the LIV Tour or any other tour, who deserved an invitation to the Masters… we would exercise that discretion with respect to special invitations,” did he declare.

One such invitation has been issued for this year’s tournament. Joaquín Niemann fell from 15th in the world rankings to 93rd, but he was included in the Masters field, in part because of his success outside of the LIV schedule, including a victory at the Australian Open in December.

Eighteen LIV golfers qualified for last year’s Masters, and that number is expected to decrease each year, absent OWGR points. Seven LIV players here are former Masters champions, and three others have won another major. Only two LIV players – Tyrrell Hatton and Adrian Meronk – qualified via the world rankings.

“Our goal is to have, as much as possible, the best golf course, the best players in the world,” Ridley said. “That said, we never had all the best players in the world because of the structure of our tournament. It’s an invitation. This is a limited field. It’s a small field. … We are in a slightly different situation. But we have this flexibility, as I mentioned earlier, and I do not exclude that we will consider it in the future.

Norman had not competed in the Masters since 2021, when he was an analyst for SiriusXM. Ridley made headlines a year ago when he explained that Norman had been denied an invitation to the 2023 tournament “in order to stay focused on the competition.”

This year, Norman didn’t bother waiting for an invitation and came to the class with two LIV executives through the main door. He wore his familiar white straw hat and an LIV shirt as he walked the course, watching LIV players such as Rahm, Sergio García and Patrick Reed play their practice rounds.

“I’m here because we have 13 players who have won 10 Masters between them,” Norman said. “So I’m here just to support them, do my best to show them, ‘Hey, you know, the boss is here to support you.’ »

Fans sometimes stopped Norman for photos or to shake his hand, but there was no sign of animosity for the man who launched LIV, revamped the golf landscape and attracted many of the game’s biggest names away from the PGA Tour.

Players on both tours are calling for some sort of reconciliation that would allow the world’s best players to compete against each other more often, but industry executives don’t expect the chasm to close anytime soon. The PGA Tour continues to negotiate with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, owner of LIV, regarding a potential partnership.

“To be honest with you, the LIV is completely self-contained,” Norman said of the PIF. “I’m not even privy to any of the conversations, which I’m happy about because we’re focused on achieving what we promised the world we would achieve.”

While detractors predicted that LIV players might struggle at last year’s Masters due to a lighter competition schedule, LIV players occupied three of the top six spots in the final rankings, including Brooks Koepka and Mickelson, tied for second. And last year’s winner, Rahm, joined LIV in December. Norman said he hadn’t heard many detractors before this year’s tournament.

“I’m trying to cut out all this other stuff, all the white noise and all that,” he said. “These guys are the best. So when the best rub shoulders with the best, you’ll always see the best rise to the top, no matter who or where they play.

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