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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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‘Gotta Get in First’: For LIV Golfers, a New Path to the Green Jacket

  • Joaquin Niemann, who joined LIV Golf in 2022, is receiving a special invite to the Masters.
  • Niemann, like many others on LIV, has plummeted down the world golf rankings.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Network

LIV Golf scored a small but very important victory with Joaquin Niemann’s special invitation to the Masters in April.

Niemann, the 25-year-old Chilean who left the PGA Tour in 2022 for a sign-on fee with LIV that The Telegraph reported to be at least $100 million, finished T-16 at the ’23 Masters and played in the other three major championships last year but fell outside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking—severely hurting his chances of making it into this year’s field at Augusta National. 

But on Tuesday, the club announced that Niemann (currently ranked No. 81) and two other non–LIV golfers—Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen (No. 59) and Japan’s Ryo Hisatsune (No. 78)—had accepted special invitations, citing a “long-standing tradition of inviting leading international players who are not otherwise qualified” for the Masters. Last year, Japanese golfer Kazuki Higa (who was ranked No. 68 at the time) and American amateur Gordon Sargent received special invites. The most recent special invite before that was in 2019.

The inclusion of Niemann is crucial because LIV has been unable to secure world ranking points, meaning top players who don’t have exemptions into major championships via previous wins at those tournaments are slowly but surely losing their status for golf’s biggest events. The Masters, which was looking at potentially its smallest field in decades, has now invited 83 players (including 13 LIV members) for April’s tournament—still lower than the 87–99 range seen each year since 2000.

Niemann has been vocal about his desire to continue competing in the majors and his displeasure with the current ranking system, which he called “unfair” in January. After winning LIV’s season-opening event in Mexico, Niemann said he hoped the victory got the attention of golf’s power brokers. “I want to win majors,” he said, “but I gotta get in first.”

Competition Matters

Notably, the Masters’ announcement did not cite Niemann’s performance on LIV but instead three recent top-five finishes on the DP World Tour, including a win at the Australian Open in December. That could be a message to other LIV members that making the effort to keep competing globally—and performing well—will boost their chances of getting into the Masters, and perhaps other majors if they aren’t otherwise qualified.

In October, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said the club didn’t anticipate making changes to Masters qualifying criteria, but he did point out that exemptions were always under consideration. “We adjust to what we feel is in the best interest of a tournament representing the best players in the world,” he said at the time. Luckily for Niemann—and LIV—the Green Jackets made good on their promise to be flexible.

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