John P. Lopez – Masters of their fate: What Augusta could learn from women’s hoops

Dustin Johnson, Harold Varner III, Phil Mickelson and Talor Gooch cross The Nelson Bridge on no. 13 during a practice round for The Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, on April 4, 2023. Pga The Masters Practice Round

John P. Lopez – Masters of their fate: What Augusta could learn from women’s hoops

The greatest, most-watched golf tournament on the planet begins Thursday, but the slippery slope on which the haughty Augusta National members currently stand measures about a 12 on the Stimpmeter.

And it’s getting slipperier and faster downhill by the moment.

LIV Golf, the upstart competing tour to the PGA, is being treated cordially by the old-guard this week, for sure. But it’s more like those awkward, disliked family members showing up at holiday party to which they were not invited.

Be nice. Don’t bring up that LIV thing. Not here. Not now. Just smile, exchange pleasantries and it’ll all be over by Sunday night.

“The tone has been really good here this week,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley told reporters Wednesday. “I’ve noticed the players are interacting. I would not have known anything was going on in the world of professional golf other than the norm. So I think, and I’m hopeful, that this week might get people thinking in a little bit different direction and things will change.”


Nothing could be further from the truth. And nothing could be more ill-advised in a developing post-Tiger Woods era where neither ratings nor popularity are guaranteed.

The Masters needs LIV, they’re just too stuffy or stubborn to recognize it.

Instead of tempering debate and rivalry, they should be encouraging it. Instead of making rules changes and legal filings in attempts to gradually limit or eradicate LIV golfers’ chances of playing on the game’s greatest stage, they should learn from the past – including the recent past.

Raise your hand if you recognized LSU’s Angel Reese or Iowa’s Caitlin Clark before last week? The best thing that ever happened to women’s college basketball was the “you can’t see me” gestures two of the best women’s players made, and the ensuing debates that raged from SportsCenter to cable news networks to millions of social media posts.

Are you Team Angel or Team Caitlin? PGA or LIV? It would be just as spectacular for golf.

The women’s game never has been as popular, interesting, or watchable as it is today. With players like Reese and Clark playing longer at the college level thanks to NIL money that reaches seven-figures, the future never has been brighter for women’s basketball.

Ratings for the LSU-Iowa title game last week were just under 10 million viewers, the highest the women’s game has ever enjoyed. Ratings for the past two Masters’ final rounds, when Tiger Woods was a virtual non-factor: 9.5 million and 10.1 million viewers.

The PGA’s head-in-the-sand-trap ways literally don’t add up.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rescued the NBA from a similar funk in the 1980s, thanks to a commissioner in David Stern who recognized that polarizing, rival players sell. They bring eyes. They make viewers take sides. They sell.

Pick a sport, any sport. Martina Navratilova needed Chris Evert. Muhammad Ali needed Joe Frazier. Ted Williams-Joe DiMaggio. Tom Brady-Peyton Manning. Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi. On and on it goes. Even the PGA itself needed Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus back in the day, and to a lesser degree Woods and Mickelson.

Not even The Masters can simply mow the greens, flick on Jim Nantz’s dulcet tones and show high-def images of blooming Azaleas and expect to continue to thrive. It won’t.

Especially considering that the PGA and Augusta are fighting legal and other battles behind the scenes to ostracize some of the biggest names in golf, it’s clear they’re doing it wrong. Among the 50-plus golfers who have made the jump to the Saudi-backed LIV tour are superstars Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, and Patrick Reed. Six former Masters champions play on the LIV Tour. Some 10 LIV golfers have at least 10 worldwide golf wins. And while the PGA’s promoted perception of LIV Tour players has been that it’s mostly aging players chasing guaranteed money, the reality is 11 LIV players are in their 20s and 24 players are in their 30s, including one of this week’s Masters favorites, Cameron Smith.

Augusta needs LIV. Just ask those players established enough to admit as much.

Since LIV came into existence and tempted so many PGA players to jump ship, the PGA has been proactively adding incentives that players have long requested. Guaranteed event qualifying, which enhances earning potential. Limited fields. Bonuses. Bigger purses and FedEx Cup point guarantees.

“Oh, it’s LIV Golf, without a doubt,” world No. 3-ranked Jon Rahm said at The Players Championship a few weeks ago. “Without LIV, this wouldn’t have happened. To an extent we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA Tour want to change things. I wish it didn’t come to the PGA Tour being under fire from somebody else to make those changes and make things better for the players, but I guess it is what we needed. So yeah, it is because of LIV Golf, otherwise we wouldn’t have seen any of this.”

Tiger was a once-in-a-generation stand-alone phenomenon. If the PGA Tour and specifically The Masters thinks another Tiger is going to come around and carry the load, they’re fooling themselves. And even if one does, that player just might be playing on the lucrative LIV Tour.

Maybe the PGA’s ploy will work. Maybe their pseudo-monopoly will find the right legal angles. Maybe their attempts at strong-arming players from earning world-rankings and tickets to Majors ultimately will make the LIV buckle and fold.

But they’re doing it wrong. Instead of ignoring LIV in hopes it goes away, it should be embracing it, encouraging it and putting the faces of LIV golfers square against the PGA’s best on every marquee from Augusta to Pebble Beach.

Just ask Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark if things worked. Just ask women’s basketball.

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