Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson says he is praying to be allowed back at Augusta National after jumping from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf, but is prepared for any ban.
Watson, sidelined by a knee injury, was among ex-PGA newcomers to the Saudi-backed LIV series speaking Wednesday ahead of the event starting Friday at The International course in Bolton, Massachusetts.
LIV Golf’s record $25 million purses have helped lure 26 of the world’s 100 top players to the circuit.
But players who leave for LIV Golf have been banned indefinitely by the PGA Tour and while LIV players were allowed in this year’s US and British Opens, there is no guarantee they will be allowed in majors going forward, even at events where past champions typically get long-term starting spots.
“It’s a weird situation, being a Masters champion,” Watson said. “Augusta, right now, we can play in it, and I’m hoping, and praying, that they make the right decisions and past champions (can play).
“If they tell me that I can’t go, being a past champion, then I don’t want to be there anyway because that’s just the wrong way to look at it.”
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, who shared 11th at last week’s PGA Tour Championship, said he had no regrets about his decision, even if it means he would not play in more majors.
“I had thought about it a lot of days and I’m really happy with my decision and I’m really excited to be part of the LIV Tour,” Niemann said.
“We earn our place in the majors and if they want to see real competition they have to have the top players. That’s why the majors are there.”
India’s Anirban Lahiri, who like Niemann was among six players named Tuesday as new LIV members, said he was excited for the chance to play more often in Asia.
“There’s so much good that’s going to come out of this. It’s definitely going to boost the growth in that region,” Lahiri said.
He hopes to play in a future LIV event in India.
“That’s going to be a possibility in the future and that’s where you inspire the next generation,” Lahiri said. “It’s definitely going to be impactful.”
Lahiri has lived his dream of playing in majors but is happy to play less often now.
“I also reach a point in time of my life now where I’ve had my second kid, and I want to be home more and I want to give them the best environment I can,” Lahiri said.
World ranking points are not awarded for LIV events, although with world number two Cameron Smith, the British Open champion, making the switch this week, Watson argues they should.
“The number two player in the world is now here so if you’re going to try to see the best players in the world, then you should have world ranking points,” Watson said.
‘LIV versus PGA’ event?
He would also liked to see the best of LIV Golf and the PGA compete against each other one day.
“I’d love if there’s a way to figure out a way all of us work together or at least play LIV against PGA Tour,” Watson said.
Watson traded cordial texts with Rory McIlroy after the European star won the Tour Championship and said he hopes he still has PGA pals.
“I didn’t die,” Watson said. “We can still be friends.”
American Harold Varner III, said his jump was influenced by the chance for the “generational” wealth LIV offered to secure his family for life. It also meant a huge social media backlash.
“It sucked,” Varner said. “It’s terrible. I’d rather not even be known than be hated. I just hate to be hated because you’re doing what’s best for you.”
Varner said he appreciated how PGA Tour changes to boost prize money made it more like LIV Golf.
“Everyone is going to be better off now than they were two years ago,” Varner said. “Somebody is about to get paid, that’s for sure.”