What role has Augusta National and chairman Fred Ridley had in the current brouhaha between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf Invitational Series? More than you might think if a 105-page complaint filed by Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and nine other players asking for a temporary restraining order so that LIV defectors can compete in the upcoming FedEx Cup Playoffs is to be believed.
“Augusta National, the promoter of The Masters, has taken multiple actions to indicate its alignment with the PGA Tour, thus seeding doubt among top professional golfers whether they would be banned from future Masters Tournaments,” according to an antitrust lawsuit filed by 11 LIV golfers on Wednesday against the Tour. “As an initial matter, the links between the PGA Tour and Augusta National run deep. The actions by Augusta National indicate that the PGA Tour has used these channels to pressure Augusta National to do its bidding. For example, in February, 2022 Augusta National representatives threatened to disinvite players from The Masters if they joined LIV Golf.”
It notes, among other things, that the Tour asked Augusta National officials to attend “an emergency meeting” of the player advisory council meeting in May, ahead of LIV Golf’s maiden tournament once the field was announced, “to discuss ramifications for players participating in LIV Golf.” While officials did not attend the meeting, they did tell players in attendance at the meeting that the Tour and Augusta National had agreed to work together in addressing LIV Golf, according to the plaintiffs.
“The threat of exclusion from the Masters is a powerful weapon in the Tour’s arsenal to deter players from joining LIV Golf,” the suit claims.
The suit also claims that Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley has been working behind the scenes against LIV Golf.
“In addition, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley personally instructed a number of participants in the 2022 Masters not to play in the LIV Golf Invitational Series. Plainly, these threats to top players served no beneficial purpose, as they would only serve to weaken the field in the Masters,” the claim states.
The lawsuit also says that Ridley declined a request for a meeting from LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman.
Ridley also allegedly called Asian Tour CEO Cho Minn Thant along with R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers “to threaten consequences relating to the Asian Tour’s position in the current ‘ecosystem’ if the Asian Tour continued to support LIV Golf and its LIV Golf Invitational Series.”
In his only public comments related to LIV Golf Ridley said at the Masters in April, “Our mission is to always act in the best interest of the game in whatever form that may take. I think that golf is in a good place right now. There’s more participation, the purses on the professional tours are the highest they’ve ever been. We’ve been pretty clear in our belief that the world tours have done a great job in promoting the game over the years. Beyond that, there’s so much that we don’t know about what might happen or what could happen, I can’t say much more beyond that.”
There are six former Masters champions that have bolted for LIV Golf — three-time champ Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson, a two-time green jacket winner who announced his intentions last week that he would join LIV as soon as he was healthy and begin his involvement as a non-playing captain with the start of the next event Labor Day week near Boston.
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