[PHOTO: Christian Petersen]

There were no grand pronouncements from Masters chairman Fred Ridley during his annual Wednesday press conference regarding the state of the professional game and the continued divide between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.

But there was some wishful thinking.

Asked about fans frustration with the schism in the game been an explainer the decline in television ratings this year on the PGA Tour, Ridley offered his sentiments, with a tinge of melancholy.

“Certainly, the fact that the best players in the world are not convening very often is not helpful. Whether or not there’s a direct causal effect, I don’t know,” Ridley said. “But I think that it would be a lot better if they were together more often.”

Led by defending champion Jon Rahm, 13 LIV Golf members are competing in the 2024 Masters. Of them, 10 earned either invitations thanks to having won a green jacket (conferring a lifetime invite), or won one of golf’s other majors in the past five years. Just two gained invites for being in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, down from 10 in 2023.

That trend of fewer LIV players in the top of the OWGR will only continue as they remain unable to accrue OWGR points from LIV events. Ridley was asked what if anything the Masters might do to ensure that LIV Golf do have access to playing at Augusta National in the future. Specifically, would the club consider creating a separate qualifying criteria, as several LIV golfers had lobbied for, to ensure a certain number earn invitations? He left the impression that wasn’t going to be an immediate alternative.

“I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that had any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they’re basically, not totally, but for the most part, a closed shop.”

In tandem with that, Ridley noted the club has the ability to offer special invitation to international players that allows it to account for LIV players who deserved attention, albeit in a subjective way.

“We’re an invitational, and we can adjust as necessary. I mean, a great example is this year Joaquin Niemann was given a special invitation. We felt that Joaquin had not only a great record coming up to this year, but after his season, you know, he went to Australia, played very well there, finished fourth in the Australian PGA, won the Australian Open, one of the great, great championships in the world. And we thought he was deserving of a special invitation.”

Ridley also said this special invitation criteria would be something the club would also be open to reviewing for American players on the LIV circuit as well.

Ridley made of a point of saying that contrary to the criticism of LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman and other players, that the OWGR “is a legitimate determiner of who the best players in the game are”.

Masters 2024: ‘The boss is here rooting for you,’ says Greg Norman on visit to Augusta National

Interestingly, too, Ridley acknowledge that the way the Augusta National puts together the Masters field isn’t necessarily with the intention of having the strongest of any of the men’s majors.

“Our goal is to have, to the greatest extent possible, the best field in golf, the best players in the world. Having said that, we never have had all the best players in the world because of the structure of our tournament. It’s an invitational. It’s limited field, it’s a small field.

“We’ve always honoured our past champions, many of whom – some of whom, I should say – would not necessarily be in an open competition, but they add a lot to this tournament. They’re a part of our history. We also honour amateurs… So we’re a little bit different situation.”

One that Ridley and the Masters seems perfectly comfortable with.