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Golf Monthly
Golf Monthly
Ben Fleming

Five Takeaways From Fred Ridley's Masters Press Conference

Fred Ridley during The Masters.

With the first of The Masters fast approaching, Wednesday saw the turn of Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley to face the media ahead of the tournament. 

The first men's Major championship of the season will provide some relief from the swirling uncertainty that still looms large over the professional game as negotiations between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund continue to stall. 

Ridley sought to address some of those contentious issues, particularly surrounding LIV players' major eligibility but he also delved into other topics, including upcoming changes at Augusta National, his support for the golf ball rollback and declining TV ratings.

Here are five key takeaways from his press conference. 

Declining TV ratings 

The PGA Tour has seen a stark trend to start to the year, with almost all of their tournaments seeing reduced viewing figures in the final round. Even Scottie Scheffler's dramatic win at the Players Championship in March drew 700,000 less than the year prior.

For Ridley the solution is simple - get the game's best players back together again.

"If you look at the data this year, golf viewers are down linear television while other sports, some other sports are up. So you can draw your own conclusions," he said.

"Certainly the fact that the best players in the world are not convening very often is not helpful. Whether or not there's a direct causal effect, I don't know. But I think that it would be a lot better if they were together more often."

Addressing concerns over the OWGR

(Image credit: Getty Images)

With LIV abandoning their bid to receive world ranking points, the issue of their players' eligibility for future major championships remains up in the air.

While Ridley said Augusta would continue to lean heavily on the world rankings, their status as an invitational afforded them some flexibility as shown by the decision to extend an invite to Joaquin Niemann after his impressive performances in recent months.

"We're on the board of the OWGR and we believe that it is a legitimate determiner of who the best players in the game are," he explained.

“There’s been communication that’s been public regarding LIV’s application, which subsequently was withdrawn after some remedial suggestions were made regarding pathways and access to players and concern about some of the aspects of team golf.

"But I think in our case, we're an invitational, and we can adjust as necessary. I mean, a great example is this year Joaquin Niemann was given a special invitation. We felt that Joaquin had not only a great record coming up to this year but after his season, you know, he went to Australia, played very well there, finished fourth in the Australian PGA, won the Australian Open, one of the great, great championships in the world. And we thought he was deserving of a special invitation.

“Historically, and as stated in our qualification criteria, we consider international players for special invitations. But we do look at those every year and if we felt that there was a player or players, whether they played on the LIV tour or any other tour, who were deserving of an invitation to The Masters, we would exercise that discretion with regard to special invitations.”

Changes to Augusta National

The major change at Augusta last year was the lengthening of the par-five 13th, with the tee box moved 35 yards further back.

Ahead of this year's tournament, Ridley announced that there had been a minor change to the tee box on the second hole but also revealed that the club plans to build an underground car park ahead of next year's event as well as a three-level, state-of-the-art facility for players, their families and their support staff in time for the 2026 tournament.

"That's like asking: 'Can we touch up the Mona Lisa a little bit?'"

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Past champions Vijay Singh and Ben Crenshaw both suggested earlier in the week that the signature par-three 12th should be lengthened. Ridley, though, maintained that the 'Golden Bell' remained what world's best par-three and would not be changed while the course remained under his stewardship.

"I would say with a hundred per cent certainty that it would not be lengthened during my tenure," he insisted. 

"That's almost like asking: 'Can we touch up the Mona Lisa a little bit?' I think that the 12th hole at Augusta is the most iconic par-3 in the world. There's something about the topography, the trees, the wind, the beauty that just captures your imagination. 

"When you combine that with the history that's been made there, I mean, the most recent being the tragedies and triumphs when Tiger Woods won in 2019. You know, Freddie Couples' ball, you know, hanging up on the edge of Rae's Creek, which was made part of the song 'Augusta.'

"I just think it is such an iconic hole that's had so many important moments in the Masters that I'm not sure that another 10 yards would really make a difference."

Support for the golf ball Rollback

In December last year, the USGA and R&A announced plans for a total rollback of the golf ball - affecting both professionals and recreational players - starting in 2028.

The decision from the governing bodies marks an attempt to tackle the issue of ever-increasing driving distances in the professional game, with Ridley and Augusta National throwing their support behind the proposals.

"For almost 70 years, the Masters was played at just over 6,900 yards. Today the course measures 7,550 yards from the markers, and we may well play one of the tournament rounds this year at more than 7,600 yards," he said.

"I've said in the past that I hope we will not play the Masters at 8,000 yards. But that is likely to happen in the not-too-distant future under current standards. Accordingly, we support the decisions that have been made by The R&A and the USGA as they have addressed the impact of distance at all levels of the game."

Watch Fred Ridley's 2024 Masters press conference:

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