Latest: Joaquin Niemann Was Invited to the Masters, but That Doesn't Mean a Rankings Reckoning for LIV Golf

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Joaquin Niemann has been at the center of the Official World Golf Ranking/LIV Golf controversy for the past three weeks. The golfer from Chile who last November won the Australian Open and tied for 16th at the Masters last year made clear after his LIV Golf Mayakoba win that he wants to win majors but “needs to get in them first.”

That put the focus again on the fact that the OWGR is not ranking LIV golfers and that this omission is leading to uneasiness in the game. No matter where you stand on LIV Golf, Niemann is likely a deserving player who—yes, he admits to taking a chance by signing up for LIV Golf—would almost certainly have qualified for the Masters otherwise.

Thus, last week Augusta National and the Masters gave Niemann a special exemption to play this year’s tournament. It has been viewed almost universally as the right move but has in some circles been viewed as a knock against the OWGR—which almost certainly is not the case.

Joaquin Niemann received one of three special invitations into this year’s Masters.

Jamie Sabau/USA TODAY Sports

Niemann got one of three spots the Masters announced, along with Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen and Japan’s Ryo Hisatsune. Special invites are not rare, but giving three in the same year is—the Masters had not done so since 2008. It has now awarded special invites 15 times since 1999, the year it began incorporating OWGR into its invitation criteria.

Last year it gave two, including one to NCAA champion Gordon Sargent, signaling its intention to invite the reigning college winner annually—which it later made official.

But in announcing Niemann’s invite, it said nothing of his affiliation with LIV Golf. Niemann has won the Latin America Amateur Championship, which is underwritten by the Masters, to gain a spot as an amateur. And his victory in Australia along with a fourth-place finish at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic last month were signs that he was making a concerted effort to move up the rankings. He finished third at the International Series event in Oman on Sunday.

And lest we forget: the OWGR board is made up of seven members, three of whom are affiliated with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour (and recused themselves from the LIV/OWGR decision) and the rest consisting of one representative from each of the four major championships, including Augusta National.

The Masters was not dissing its own place among the OWGR by extending an invitation to Niemann.

And yet, the Masters has always been PGA Tour-heavy in its invitation criteria. It gives spots to PGA Tour winners as well as those who finish top 30 in the season-long FedEx Cup standings, as well as the top 50 OWGR at the end of the calendar year and again two weeks prior to the Masters. It gives no direct spots to any other tour.

That is why the idea that the Masters will suddenly carve out spots for LIV golfers via its points list seems remote. It doesn’t do so for any other tour other than the PGA Tour. And the other major championships also seem unlikely to go down that path.

The PGA Championship is also closely tied to the PGA Tour with its points list but also has plenty of space for invites, typically given to the top 100 players in the OWGR who are not otherwise in the field.

While both the U.S. Open and British Open give limited spots to tours (aside from the PGA Tour; the Open does give access to the DP World Tour via its Race to Dubai) around the world, they have the easy fallback: qualifying. Both tournaments offer spots through final qualifying.

The proper ranking of players around the world remains problematic as long as it is determined that the LIV Golf format does not adhere to OWGR’s methodology. No matter where you sit on that issue, the reality remains, leaving us to debate the merits of players such as Niemann.

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