April 5, 2024 10:00am

Golf Power Poll: The Masters

Based on this month’s Power Poll regarding how the Masters and the major championships build their fields, people mostly like things just the way they are – with perhaps some tweaks to make it even better.

Photo of Scott Michaux
By Scott Michaux
Golf Correspondent

Based on this month’s Power Poll regarding how the Masters and the major championships build their fields, people mostly like things just the way they are – with perhaps some tweaks to make it even better.

Getting invited to major championships has become a major talking point with the LIV Golf league not being included in the Official World Golf Ranking – an important criteria used for determining who is qualifies to compete in the most important events on the golf calendar.

There will be 13 LIV golfers in the field in the Masters next week, 10 of them eligible as either past Masters champions (7) or winners of other major championships in the last five years (3). Two recent LIV signees both qualified via the OWGR at the end of 2023 while one player (Joaquin Niemann) received one of three special international invitations into the field.

LIV’s 2023 individual points champion Talor Gooch will not be at Augusta, nor will former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who won a pair of DP World Tour events in Africa in December. Gooch and Oosthuizen rank 39th and 43rd respectively in the independent Data Golf Rankings but 550th and 118th in the current OWGR. Gooch recently said that if Rory McIlroy were to complete his career slam at the Masters, it would have an asterisk because all the best players won’t be in the field.

“The absences of Talor Gooch and Louis Oosthuizen merit an asterisk? That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all week,” said Reid Spencer, publisher of Metro Golf Magazine. “But in all seriousness, OWGR should not be a governing factor since it’s no longer comprehensive.”

Beyond its criteria allowing PGA Tour winners, the Players champion and the top 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship, the Masters has never given exemptions based exclusively on milestone successes on other world tours. But Augusta periodically tweaks its qualifying criteria, recently adding the NCAA champion provided he remains an amateur through the Masters.

“We actually have discussed that, and that may well be something we do in the future,” Masters/club chairman Fred Ridley said last year when asked about possible pathways via other tours into the field. “We really want to make sure that the Masters Tournament field is representative of the best players in the world, so we are constantly looking at those possibilities. Our conclusion for the time being is that the Official World Golf Ranking, it’s a really good way to invite players. It’s an objective criteria based on data-driven analytics, and it’s consistently applied.”

Respondents to April’s Power Poll overwhelmingly think Ridley has it mostly right. Nearly 70 percent think the OWGR is still an effective way to determine qualifications for major championships. However, more than two-thirds of pollsters also believe the Masters and other majors should carve out more direct pathways into their fields from global tours other than the PGA Tour.

Twice as many polled (44.6 percent to 22.3 percent) believe the DP World Tour in Europe should get more consideration for major exemptions than LIV Golf. Nearly a quarter, however, think all global tours outside the PGA Tour should get more consideration.

And when it comes to which tour will supply the winner for next week’s Masters, the PGA Tour is considered the overwhelming favorite from 107 out of 127 respondents (84.3 percent) compared to just 18 (14.2 percent) who think a LIV golfer will win and just 2 votes for a primarily DP World Tour player.

While the Official World Golf Ranking might be flawed at the moment with LIF Golf’s exclusion, most of our pollsters believe it still works for evaluating field criteria.

“The OWGR still functions properly for major qualification. It no longer functions as an accurate ranking of all golfers, which is a separate issue in my eyes,” said Sean Fairholm of MyGolfSpy, who notes that the Masters “is not missing any key players.”

“The OWGR has been a perfectly reasonable major qualification system until LIV came along and decided not to follow the OWGR criteria. LIV players shouldn't get OWGR points when their place in a LIV field is arbitrary and guaranteed – not all players are allowed the same access, which is inherently unfair.”

Said golf industry contributor Rick Woelfel: “The OWGR is probably the best way at present to qualify players for majors but it’s not perfect. The ranking system should be tweaked to recognize top performers from tours other than the PGA Tour. That said, the LIV is not equivalent or superior to the PGA Tour. When players are assured of a paycheck regardless of how they perform, it takes some of the edge off. The LIV is not exhibition golf, it's not professional wrestling. But it's not the same as having to play well to make a check.”

Steve Habel, publisher of GolfDaily.com, think a better ranking system could be created with Augusta’s resources, “It’s time to develop, and use, a world rankings system that recognizes all the best players,” he said. “The Masters – with its recognized history of forward thinking as far as competition is concerned – could be the bell cow in this initiative.”

“Although tweaking the OWGR system is one option, it’s more complicated now that LIV has stepped away from the discussion,” said Terry Moore, founding editor of Michigan Golfer. “The Masters could expand its current qualification criteria, such as including more high finishers from the Open, US Open, and PGA Championships.”

While pollsters might think the OWGR still holds merit, the concept of creating direct pathways into the Masters and other majors to build a more representative field is a popular concept.

“Since the split between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the Official World Golf Ranking no longer reflect ALL of the best players across the globe,” said Mark Lamport-Stokes, a former Reuters writer and PR director for the LPGA. “If the four major championships would like to showcase the best players in the world, they need to look beyond the OWGR.”

Several commenters cited Augusta National founder Bobby Jones in pointing out what the Masters desired from its field.

“It's fairly simple: If you don't expand the criteria, you won't get the best players in the world, which is what founder Bobby Jones wanted,” said Janina Jacobs of The A Position. “The Masters has always done what it wants to and few object to it. There are many fine players on all the tours around the globe. The top amateurs are there as well – a good thing.”

Billy Satterfield, writer and photographer for Golf Course Gurus, pointed to the NCAA’s college basketball tournament as a model for how the Master and other majors can build fields.

“There will be the automatic berths (like conference champions in the NCAA) through OWGR and tour wins, then each major should have a committee that decides what at-large berths should be extended,” Satterfield suggests. “No matter what tour you support, you have to acknowledge that not all of the best players in the world exist on the same tour. LIV, Korn Ferry, DP World, PGA, NCAA, etc. all feature players worthy of being included among the best players in the world. There is always a certain level of controversy on who gets into the “bubble” spots of the NCAA tournament and who doesn’t, but there is never controversy that the best of the best teams will be in for sure.”

Expanding access into majors from tours other than the PGA Tour got a lot of support.

“Golf’s major championships should feature the best players from throughout the world and leave no doubt once the field is filled,” said Bob Denney, PGA of America historian. “Qualifying for each major begs for select events from the end of the Open Championship to late March to define an agreed number of qualifiers.”

There is no consensus, however, on which tours deserve more consideration. LIV Golf is not at the top of the list; the European DP World Tour got two times the support.

“The Masters should tender invitations to the top two leading money winners on the top five major tours that play 72-hole tournaments, which excludes LIV events,” said J. Roger Graves, senior writer/editor of PGA Magazine. “LIV wants the Masters and other majors to reshape their qualifying criteria to meet LIV’s needs, but LIV should reshape its tournament format to a more traditional 72-hole format that would make LIV events more legit and eligible for OWGR points.”

Said Bill Hobson, host of Michigan Golf Live: “The constant conversation about how standards should be bent/revised to allow in those who chose to depart the system, is beyond tiresome. Every player who left the PGA (Tour) did so knowing very clearly that they were putting access to the majors in jeopardy. Whether they were lied to by Greg Norman is their problem to sort out with him. I would much rather see the Masters open up to top players on the Korn Ferry Tour where we can see players with a passion for the heart and soul of the game earn a chance to compete.”

LIV, however, does have its supporters. “If the Masters wants the best players in the world in the field, then the Lords of Augusta have to invite the top LIV players who are otherwise not exempt until the OWGR issue is resolved,” said Tom Cunneff, editor, of The Met Golfer.

As for who is going to win the green jacket, our respondents overwhelmingly think that someone primarily on the PGA Tour will prevail – a good bet considering 49 of the top 50 players in the world are PGA Tour card holders.

“In every Masters during a Presidential election year in this century, the winner … has been a first time Masters champion and half of them have come from the internationals,” said Dan Reardon of KMOX-AM. “Rory completes the slam.”

With the likes on world No. 3 and defending champion Jon Rahm, has 13 star players taking up 14.8 percent of the current 88-player field. Fittingly, it got 14.2 percent of the poll support to have a LIV winner emerge.

“I’ll take Dustin Johnson,” said David Droschak, a former AP writer now in communications.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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