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PGA hardliners agree LIV Golf players ‘earned’ Masters shot

AUGUSTA, Ga. — This was not exactly a peace-in-the-Middle-East bulletin, but after a press center video board reported that Tiger Woods — lead defense attorney for the PGA Tour — was practicing on the 15th hole with LIV Golf defector Bryson DeChambeau, I ran in the direction of the 16th tee.

Actually, I walked in the direction of the 16th tee, walked as fast as humanly possible. Running is not allowed at Augusta National, a fact I discovered the hard way while jogging slowly toward the old press center at the start of my first Masters more than three decades ago, before a security guard stopped me cold and threatened to bum-rush me out of the ballpark.

It turned out to be a false alarm Monday morning, as Woods was on the back nine with fellow LIV bashers Rory McIlroy and Fred Couples, along with 20-year-old Masters rookie Tom Kim. After Woods landed his second tee shot in the 14th fairway, fans standing under the trees on the left called for Tiger to come over and hit his first ball, which had settled in the pine straw near their feet.

Woods laughed at them, shook his head, and pointed toward his mulligan. “That’s OK, Tiger,” one fan shouted. “That’s the way I play, too.”

Good vibes all day at the Masters, even though DeChambeau didn’t get to rekindle his bromance with the famous friend who has ghosted him (as Bryson told Golfweek), and even though Bryson won’t get a chance at Tuesday’s champions dinner to ask Tiger why he didn’t respond to his birthday text in December. DeChambeau was invited to play here as the 2020 U.S. Open champ, but he wasn’t invited to the dinner that honors only those who have won a green jacket.

Bryson DeChambeau has a laugh during a Masters practice.

Six LIV members who have won green jackets will be in attendance, inspiring a lot of conversation about the potential food fight to come.

“Are the LIV guys going to get along with the PGA Tour guys?” legendary two-time Masters champ Tom Watson playfully asked a small circle of reporters under Augusta’s old oak tree. “That’s your story.”

Approached later by a reporter asking if he agreed with the club’s decision to LIV and let live with the Phil Mickelsons, Bubba Watsons, Dustin Johnsons, Sergio Garcias, and Patrick Reeds, Tom Watson told The Post: “Of course. Because they earned it. They earned their exemptions. The club didn’t change their exemptions, did they? That’s the way it should be.”

Amen Corner to that.

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Augusta National announced in December that it would not change its qualification criteria for this week’s tournament, meaning that the players who were Masters eligible before leaving the PGA Tour would still be getting their invitations in the mail. The guardians of the other three majors — the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship — followed Augusta’s lead because, well, everyone in golf follows Augusta’s lead.

From the outside looking in, this might look like a tough call to make. The LIV guys are trying to either marginalize or destroy the PGA Tour, right? They are cashing absurdly large checks (in front of absurdly small audiences) while helping Saudi Arabia use sport to dress up its appalling record on human rights, aren’t they?

Even if the correct answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes,” it would have been a travesty had the Masters eliminated LIV players from the field long before Friday’s 36-hole cut. The PGA Tour doesn’t govern any of the four majors, so its disputes shouldn’t dictate who does and doesn’t get to play in the biggest events of the year.

And more than any tournament, the Masters likes to be defined by its traditions. This arena is golf’s answer to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, and the annual inclusion of its former winners is what helps make the place unique. If you’re looking for an ex-champ who has forfeited his right to play, find one who has been convicted of a crime (Angel Cabrera).

Fred Couples take a swing during a Masters’ practice on Monday.
Getty Images

The LIV boys have been convicted only in the court of public opinion. If fans believe what I believe — that Mickelson & Co. cut a Faustian deal that will forever haunt them — and if some stop cheering for LIV players for doing big business with a country that produced 15 of the 9/11 terrorists, so be it. Let the fans decide what the punishment should be.

But if Augusta National tried issuing its own punishment on those grounds, and arbitrarily made ineligible those who had already qualified, it would’ve gotten crushed in court. The club would’ve also had to answer questions about its prominent members’ business ties with Saudi interests. For example, Bill Gates’ company, Microsoft, recently announced the launch of a data-center region in the Kingdom that will generate billions in new revenue.

Brooks Koepka at the Masters.
Getty Images

So it never made much sense to kick out the LIV defectors, especially when the PGA Tour’s stars leveraged the rival league for fatter paydays on their own circuit. Even Couples, who called Mickelson a “nutbag” and Garcia a “clown,” had this to say of the LIV golfers at the Masters:

“I think they deserve to be here.”

That’s because they do.

By: Ny Post

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