LIV’s Niemann receives special invite to Masters

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Joaquin Niemann competed outside LIV Golf in his offseason and got something money can’t buy. He was among three players given a special invitation Wednesday to play in the Masters.

Augusta National also invited 21-year-old Ryo Hisatsune, the first Japanese player to be European tour rookie of the year, and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark.

Nieman had said when he won the LIV Golf opener in Mexico, “I want to win majors, but I’ve got to get in first.” He had fallen well outside the top 50 in the world ranking because LIV does not get world ranking points.

The Masters is April 11-14.

Niemann was the only player from Saudi-funded LIV Golf to receive the invitation, which was more about his victory in the Australian Open and his willingness to play tournaments outside LIV in a bid to get ranking points.

Augusta National did not offer an invitation to Talor Gooch, who has won three times in the LIV Golf League since the Masters was last played. The club typically reserves special invitations for international players who are not PGA Tour members and don’t have access to all the criteria, such as winning or reaching the Tour Championship.

In its announcement, Augusta National mentioned only Niemann’s win in the Australian Open and his two other top-10s in European tour-sanctioned events. The club did not cite his win at LIV Golf Mayakoba.

“The Masters Tournament has a long-standing tradition of inviting leading international players who are not otherwise qualified,” Masters chairman Fred Ridley said. “Today’s announcement represents the tournament’s continued commitment towards developing interest in the game of golf across the world.”

Niemann won the Australian Open in December, along with finishing fifth in the Australian PGA. He joined the European tour after winning the Australian Open, a co-sanctioned event, and finished fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic.

He started his third season with LIV with a 59 at Mayakoba and eventually won in a playoff over Sergio Garcia for his first title in the league with only 54 players.

“It kind of hurt me a little bit not being in the majors and I think also helped me to get motivation to kind of earn my spot back into the majors, into the elite players,” Niemann said in Mayakoba.

Niemann, who was No. 18 in the world when he joined LIV in September 2022, is now No. 81. He is playing in the Asian Tour’s International Series in Oman this week, though he would not have had a chance to get into the top 50 in the world because of the weak field.

He tied for 16th in the Masters last year in his fourth appearance. He played in 2018 as an amateur, earning his spot in the field by winning the Latin America Amateur Championship.

This is the 15th time the Masters has awarded special invitations since 1999, when it first began using the world ranking as part of the criteria. The only other time it awarded three in one year was 2008 to Jeev Milkha Singh of India, Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand and Liang Wen-Chong of China.

Hisatsune spent one year on the Japan Golf Tour before qualifying for the European tour. He won the French Open and finished high enough on the Race to Dubai to earn one of 10 spots on the PGA Tour. His best finish in four starts on the PGA Tour this year was a tie for 11th in the American Express Championship. He is No. 78 in the world ranking.

Olesen is an eight-time winner on the European tour who played in the 2018 Ryder Cup.

His invitation comes just over two years after a London court cleared him on charges of grabbing a woman’s breast, shoving a cabin crew member and urinating on a passenger’s seat on a British Airways flight from Tennessee after a World Golf Championship event. He said he has no memory of his behavior after drinking alcohol and taking sleeping tablets.

The invitations bring the field to 83 players. The only other way for players to qualify is to win one of the seven PGA Tour events before the Masters or being in the top 50 in the world in the April 1 rankings.

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