AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley is thoughtful and measured, whether being asked if Greg Norman will ever be welcomed back to Augusta National (he was understandably non-committal) or if lengthening the par-5 13th hole may diminish the drama on the far end of Amen Corner (let’s see what the weather does, he suggested).
Maybe it’s the lawyer in Ridley, who is smart enough to think before he speaks, especially since his voice can ring like a cannon shot on a quiet night. He doesn’t throw verbal firebombs but there is a gravity to what he says, knowing its potential impact, which makes his annual question-and-answer session with the Masters media more than a tradition.
So it was Wednesday morning when the chairman settled into a leather chair behind the dark wood desk framed by a moat of red azaleas at the front of the interview room in the club’s palatial media center.
Flanked by competition chairman Jim Hyler and media chairman Tom Nelson, each in his green jacket and club tie, Ridley didn’t make any earth-shaking proclamations but re-emphasized the club’s commitment to doing what’s best, not just for the Masters, but for the game.
The professional game is still caught in a tempest with LIV Golf’s ongoing disruption and a proposal to roll back the ball for elite men’s players, and Ridley sits near the center of the storm.
He is a traditionalist with an understanding of the changing world. It’s why Augusta National partnered with a video game company again and hosted a kickoff party Sunday night. It’s why Ridley announced plans for a new hospitality venue for patrons, what sounds like a scaled-down version of Berckmans Place. And it’s why the club is buying into Augusta’s municipal golf course, known to locals as “The Patch,” in hopes of bringing golf to more people.
Those are noteworthy things, but Ridley’s views on LIV Golf, which has 18 members playing this week, the proposed rollback by the USGA and the R&A and the controversial lengthening of the 13th hole hung over his media session like the ominous weather forecast threatening Augusta National this weekend.
Ridley announced tweaks to the Masters qualifications, the most notable being an exemption for the NCAA men’s champion beginning in 2024 and a similar exemption for the NCAA women’s champion into the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Otherwise, there are no major changes, and the Official World Golf Ranking, a pathway for multiple LIV participants this year, will continue to be critical to qualifying to play each April.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Ridley has taken a LIV and let live approach this year, but he made a point of saying how pleasant the champions dinner was Tuesday evening, which included six members of the Saudi-backed league.
“The tone has been really good here this week,” Ridley said. “I’ve noticed the players are interacting. Last night at the Champions Dinner, I would not have known that anything was going on in the world of professional golf other than the norm. I’m hopeful that this week might get people thinking in a little bit different direction and things will change.”
“I told them that we typically don’t take a lot of suggestions, but they have the license to feel free to do so, so I hope some more of them will talk to me.” – Fred Ridley
Asked specifically whether he was contributing to Saudi Arabia’s “sportswashing agenda” by sharing a photograph of LIV members in their green jackets at the dinner, Ridley essentially said it was a nice dinner among people who had earned their spots at the table – nothing more, nothing less.
As for the golf ball proposal, which would affect players in the Masters, Ridley didn’t distinctly declare his support for the proposed new model local rule in his opening statement, but when pressed on the subject, he reconfirmed his support for what the USGA and R&A are doing.
“I’ve stated that we believe distance needs to be addressed. I think the natural conclusion is, yes, we will be supportive,” Ridley said.
At the Champions Dinner, Ridley solicited suggestions from anyone interested in offering one.
“I told them that we typically don’t take a lot of suggestions, but they have the license to feel free to do so, so I hope some more of them will talk to me,” Ridley said.
Exhibit A in the debate over distance sits at a far corner of the club property where 35 yards has been added to the 13th tee, changing one of the most famous holes in golf. The land itself, purchased from adjacent Augusta Country Club, cost millions and the symbolism of the new tee, not to mention how it affects play, is monumental.
It’s likely many fewer players will go for the green in two, especially if the predicted north wind arrives blowing into golfers there, but those who do take on the creek-guarded green will be going in with mid-irons rather than short irons.
“I think for a still large number who will go for the green in two, I think it’s going to be a much more challenging and a much more exciting shot,” Ridley said.
“And I certainly look forward on Sunday to having someone in competition with a 3- or 4-iron in their hand or even a hybrid hitting their shot into the 13th hole rather than an 8-iron. I think on balance it’s going to prove to be the right decision.”
To see tee times for first and second rounds of the Masters, please click HERE.
Top: Media members gather to hear Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley’s remarks Wednesday morning. Photos: Courtesy Augusta National
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