The Masters Tournament invites six amateurs annually to its championship. Are they the six best amateur players in the world? Not exactly. Not even close, to be honest.
The British Amateur champion and the winner and runner-up from the U.S. Amateur earn spots. That’s fine, they’re the two oldest and best-known amateur events in the world. Those spots are earned, although it’s a little odd that the British Am runner-up doesn’t get the same consideration as the U.S. Am runner-up since the British Am’s quality of field increased significantly once it ditched qualifying and went to entries based on rankings around 2008.
The USGA discontinued its Public Links Championship. That winner used to get a Masters invite. Michelle Wie had a chance to play her way into the Masters in 2005 at 15 when she was co-medalist in U.S. Men’s Public Links Championship sectional qualifying and advanced to the match-play quarterfinals before losing. She turned pro shortly after that.
The U.S. Mid-Am champ earns a Masters spot. It’s for amateurs age 25 and over, which eliminates college players who are still competing in their sport.
The last spots are for two new events, the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin American Amateur. These events were created to help grow golf globally and the Masters carrot dangling at the end of the stick might do that.
In the meantime, however, those two fields are weak compared to the many other major amateur events. Without that grow-the-game initiative, which feels a lot like Affirmative Action, it wouldn’t make much sense to award Masters spots to those winners.
Fred Solomon is the reigning expert on amateur golf. He runs the Scratch Players World Amateur Rankings, which not only ranks amateur golfers but measures the strength and depth of the amateur events’ fields. His are the best amateur rankings because they’re far more thorough in analyzing and documenting field quality accurately than the R&A’s amateur rankings.
Let’s look at these events:
The U.S. and British Ams rank one-two in Solomon’s strength of field ratings of amateur golf.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur ranks 22nd.
The Latin America Amateur ranks 88th, which is behind even the U.S. Junior Amateur at 83rd.
The U.S. Mid-Am, top-heavy with older amateurs, predictably is in the back of the pack at 120th.
Stronger options would include the Western Amateur, ranked third; the NCAA Division I championship, fourth; and the Southern Amateur, eighth, among U.S.-based events.
Internationally, the World Am is fifth, European Amateur seventh, and the Australian Am is ninth. It’s worth noting that the European Amateur champ is exempted into the next British Open.
Seen in the context of power rankings, the Masters choices seem questionable.
“The dilution is getting to the point where there’s a stark difference between these invitations,” Solomon said. “It’s one thing to invite the U.S. and British Amateur champions. Those are the top amateur tournaments in the world. What about the Western? That’s rock-solid as the No. 3 amateur event in the world.
“The Asia-Pacific Amateur is better, having improved every year since its inception in 2009 but there are still ten U.S. amateur events that rank higher. The Latin America Am is down around the California State Amateur level. Are you going to invite the California State Am champ to the Masters? I don’t think so.”
Having a weak field doesn’t necessarily mean you end up with a weak winner. There is no way to rate a player’s potential.
Here’s how this year’s Am winners stand in the current Scratch Players World Am Rankings: Bradley Neil, British Am, 14th; Scott Harvey, U.S. Mid-Am, 51st; Gunn Yang, U.S. Am, 74th; Antonio Murdaca, Asia-Pacific Am, 87th; and Matias Dominguez, Latin America Am, 180th.
So Yang is only the third-highest ranked amateur winner among the invitees and that includes the massive amount of points he earned for winning the U.S. Am. Does that mean he doesn’t belong at the Masters? No. It just proves that every player has to start somewhere.
There is a better way to invite better amateur players to the Masters. Using Solomon’s rankings, like the Masters uses the Official World Golf Rankings for pro invitations, would be an obvious one. But that’s not going to happen.
And the truth is, the Masters isn’t looking to get the six best amateurs, it’s trying to reflect and support golf around the world.
Based strictly on the numbers, several of the choices currently seem dubious. But it’s the Masters, this is all part of a bigger plan and in a decade or two, tweaking the amateur invites may turn out to be a genius move by tournament chairman William Payne.