LIV’s Joaquinn Niemann receives special invitation to Masters

LIV Golf photo by Charles Laberge via AP / Joaquín Niemann tees off on the 12th hole during the final round of the LIV Golf League's Mayakoba tournament on Feb. 4 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
LIV Golf photo by Charles Laberge via AP / Joaquín Niemann tees off on the 12th hole during the final round of the LIV Golf League's Mayakoba tournament on Feb. 4 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Joaquin Niemann competed outside the LIV Golf League during 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 the Europe-based DP World Tour's rookie of the year, and Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen.

When he won the LIV 2024 season opener earlier this month in Mexico, Niemann said "I want to win majors, but I've got to get in first." The 25-year-old from Chile had fallen well outside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking because LIV events — which are 54-hole, 54-player, no-cut tournaments — do not come with OWGR points.

The Masters, the first major of the year, is April 11-14 at Georgia's Augusta National Golf Club.

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 his league 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 only mentioned Niemann's win in the Australian Open and his two other top-10 results in events sanctioned by the DP World Tour. The club did not cite his win at LIV Golf Mayakoba, the season opener.

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

In addition to winning the Australian Open in December, Niemann finished fifth in the Australian PGA. After winning the Australian Open, a co-sanctioned event, he tied for fourth in the DP World Tour's Dubai Desert Classic, four shots behind winner Rory McIlroy — who is currently No. 2 in the world.

Niemann, who has been with LIV since its debut 2022 season, began the league's current season with an opening 59 at Mayakoba and eventually won in a playoff over Sergio Garcia, his first victory on that circuit.

"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," he said at Mayakoba.

Niemann, who was No. 18 in the world when he joined LIV in September 2022, is now No. 81. He is competing 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.

Niemann 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 Official World Golf 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 DP World Tour. He won the French Open and finished high enough in the season-long points-based 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. He is ranked No. 78 in the world.

Olesen is an eight-time winner on the DP World Tour who played for Europe at the 2018 Ryder Cup.

His invitation comes just more than 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 April 1 edition of the Official World Golf Ranking.

  photo  AP photo by Ross D. Franklin / Ryo Hisatsune lines up a putt on the second green at TPC Scottsdale during the second round of the Phoenix Open on Feb. 10 in Arizona.
 
 

Bound for Augusta

Here are the 83 golfers currently expected to compete in the 88th edition of the Masters.

Players are listed only in the first category for which they are eligible (a-amateur).

Masters winners: Fred Couples, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Mike Weir, Danny Willett, Tiger Woods.

PGA Championship winners (five years): Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas.

U.S. Open winners (five years): Wyndham Clark, Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Fitzpatrick, Gary Woodland.

British Open winners (five years): Brian Harman, Cameron Smith, Shane Lowry.

U.S. Amateur runner-up: a-Neal Shipley.

British Amateur winner: a-Christo Lamprecht.

U.S. Mid-Amateur winner: a-Stewart Hagestad.

Asia-Pacific Amateur winner: a-Jasper Stubbs.

Latin American Amateur winner: a-Santiago de la Fuente.

Top 12 and ties-2023 Masters: Russell Henley, Viktor Hovland, Xander Schauffele, Sahith Theegala, Cameron Young.

Top four and ties-2023 PGA Championship: Cam Davis, Kurt Kitayama.

Top four and ties-2023 U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy.

Top four and ties-2023 British Open: Tom Kim, Sepp Straka, Jason Day.

PGA Tour tournament winners since 2023 Masters (full FedEx Cup points awarded): Ludvig Aberg, Keegan Bradley, Nick Dunlap, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Lucas Glover, Emiliano Grillo, Lee Hodges, Chris Kirk, Luke List, Grayson Murray, Matthieu Pavon, Nick Taylor, Erik van Rooyen, Camilo Villegas.

Field from 2023 Tour Championship: Sam Burns, Patrick Cantlay, Corey Conners, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Max Homa, Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim, Taylor Moore, Adam Schenk.

Top 50 from final Official World Golf Ranking in 2023: Eric Cole, Harris English, Ryan Fox, Adam Hadwin, Nicolai Hjogaard, Min Woo Lee, Denny McCarthy, Adrian Meronk, J.T. Poston, Justin Rose, Will Zalatoris.

Top 50 from final OWGR one week before the Masters: TBD.

Special invitation: Ryo Hisatsune, Joaquin Niemann, Thorbjorn Olesen.

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