The 2023 Masters will have an extra layer of intrigue with 18 LIV Golf players in next week’s field.
It’s the first Masters since the Saudi-backed league lured numerous marquee names away from the PGA Tour, and the players themselves have differing expectations about the reception they will receive at Augusta National.
Bubba Watson will be at the champions dinner, and said he plans to play the Par 3 contest with PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Cam Young while lining up practice rounds with other former tour buddies.
“I’m going to be honest, it’s only awkward in the media,” Watson said ahead of this week’s LIV Golf Orlando event. “Media is the only one that is pushing it. I have nothing against anybody.
“If you change jobs, I’m not mad at you. If you start reporting for somebody else … hey man, it’s a better decision for you and your family. Have at it.”
Taking questions from the media while standing between Watson and Patrick Reed, four-time major champion Brooks Koepka said that he regularly sees PGA Tour friends in his hometown of Jupiter, Fla. That includes Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy earlier this week.
“No one’s angry at anybody, from what I’ve seen,” Koepka said.
The united message in front of the media at a LIV event presented one perspective. And it was distinctly different from that of Joaquin Niemann.
The 24-year-old Chilean star told Golf.com that he felt the cold shoulder from some players and tour officials as rumors swirled last year that Niemann would sign with LIV. He didn’t hold back in sharing how eager he is to compete for LIV against PGA Tour players at the four majors.
“I think it’s going to be more fun knowing that they hate us,” Niemann told the website. “Then go to the majors and beat them.”
Despite claims by Koepka and Watson that there is no ill will between players, it promises to be the most scrutinized storyline at Augusta National next week.
Even the mention by Koepka that he was around McIlroy recently raised an additional question.
The Northern Irishman has been the most outspoken LIV critic as the de facto voice of the PGA Tour players over the past year. McIlroy has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want to mingle with LIV players at events, and a tense interaction with Reed on the driving range in Dubai earlier this year made global headlines.
Watson was again diplomatic in his perspective.
“Protecting his entity, man,” Watson said. “He’s protecting his business. Which is fine.”
–Field Level Media