AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | In his annual state of the Masters press conference Wednesday, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley touched on a number of timely subjects.
How Phil Mickelson texted the chairman to let him know that he would be sitting out this Masters.
How there are no immediate plans to change the par-5 13th hole, but it might be changed down the line.
How he is committed to increasing the number of female members at Augusta National 10 years after the first women were admitted to the club.
And, how the guys from Dude Perfect persuaded him to allow them to do an Internet video of them playing Amen Corner with tennis rackets, soccer balls, frisbees and Bryson DeChambeau.
That last one – the one in which the chairman of Augusta National never actually used the word “dude” – was revealing in how it spoke to the ongoing evolution of the club and the Masters. For all of its traditional charm, it has become a forward-thinking, embrace-the-new-world event – with the notable exception of still prohibiting patrons’ cellphones on the property.
It got Ridley’s attention when he learned the Dude Perfect group has 57 million followers on YouTube, and the video of them taking on Amen Corner has been seen more than 5 million times already.
“It accomplished what we wanted to,” Ridley said. “I’ve heard from a number of my law partners who have teenage children who said, ‘This is great. My kids want to go out and play golf.’ That’s sort of the idea.”
For the most part, Ridley stuck to familiar themes and questions. He announced a $1 million donation from the club to fund an automotive-service training center at Augusta Technical College, celebrated scholarship winners at Paine College funded by the club and showed images of the new facilities built in nearby neighborhoods to provide education, health-care and nutrition services.
As for this week, Ridley clarified why three-time champion Phil Mickelson is not playing. Mickelson, of course, is taking time away from the game after making inflammatory remarks about the PGA Tour, commissioner Jay Monahan and the proposed new golf league backed by Saudi investment.
Ridley said the club did not tell Mickelson that he was not welcome this year.
“I would like to say we did not disinvite Phil. Phil is a three-time Masters champion and is invited in that category and many other categories; he’s the defending PGA champion,” Ridley said.
“Phil reached out to me – I think it was in late February, early March – and let me know that he did not intend to play. That was by way of a text. And I thanked him for his courtesy in letting me know. I told him that we certainly appreciated that and, you know, told him that I was certainly willing to discuss that further with him if he’d like, and he thanked me, and we had a very cordial exchange.”
It remains unclear when Mickelson might return to competitive golf. Jon Rahm, a close friend of Mickelson’s, said he has reached out but heard nothing from Mickelson.
“He’s gone dark,” Rahm said.
As for the proposed new golf leagues, Ridley deflected what impact they might have on the professional game as it currently exists. There have been rumors that Augusta National might look negatively on past champions joining the new leagues.
“We have been pretty clear in our belief that the world tours have done a great job in promoting the game over the years,” Ridley said. “Beyond that, there’s so much that we don’t know about what might happen or could happen that I just don’t think I could say much more beyond that.”
Almost like the past champions gathering for dinner together every Tuesday night, there is a question about whether the club will alter the iconic 13th hole. Ridley himself has said much of the drama has been diminished at the 510-yard par 5 by the distances players now hit the ball.
Changing the 13th hole would be one of the most dramatic acknowledgements of how technology and training have altered how the game is played. Ridley said the club will see what the USGA and R&A do about potential distance regulation before the club makes a definitive decision.
“I don’t know what the changes are going to be,” Ridley said. “I think the likelihood of a ball going 50 yards shorter is not very great. My point is, we don’t really know where it might come out. There’s going to be a process; there’s going to be a lot of input from constituencies.
“Regardless of that, we are going to go forward on our own timetable and make changes we think … most of our tees are very lengthy and we’ll have that optionality today, and we’ll continue to have that optionality going forward.”
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