Fred Ridley’s Masters appearance revealed 5 Augusta National ‘certainties’

fred ridley speaks to the gallery in a green jacket at the Augusta National Women's Amateur

Fred Ridley's annual Masters press availability revealed a few secrets.

Getty Images/Warren Little

AUGUSTA, Ga. — There are a few laws of Augusta National.

The first is the simplest: Only the chairman speaks for the club, and the chairman only speaks once. That happens every Masters Wednesday, 11 a.m. local time, when the current chairman (Mr. Fred Ridley) walks into the hilariously ornate interview room at Augusta National and delivers remarks. The Chairman’s Press Conference is a tradition unto itself at the Masters, dating back to the days of club founder Clifford Roberts, and Ridley, dressed in a crisp green blazer, continued it Wednesday on a gray morning in Augusta.

If you weren’t listening closely, the press conference didn’t sound like much. In fact, you probably thought you’d witnessed Ridley employ the second law of Augusta National: do not, under any circumstances, reveal anything to the press. The chairman delivered his remarks in his typical staid drawl, kept his hair immaculately coiffed to its usual salt-and-pepper part, and politely avoided stepping on third rails with the practiced deftness of a skilled attorney (which, it turns out, he is).

For 40 minutes, the chairman dodged, filibustered, and sidestepped. On the topic of the ongoing negotiations between the PGA Tour and the Saudi PIF, he offered only that he hoped there would be a resolution with a “focus on the partners who pursue the values of golf.” On a potential LPGA event at Augusta National, he gently demurred that the club would “have to think long and hard to have another golf tournament.” Asked if the club would ever consider certain course changes, he quipped that “ever is a very long time.”

But if you were listening closely, you didn’t need Ridley to spell it out for you. You saw the dodges and the filibusters and the sidesteps and understood that they really meant something else. Which means you also understood the third law of Augusta National: The chairman’s answers tell us everything, even when they’re not answers at all.

Take, for example, Ridley’s stance on the distance explosion in professional golf. For the first time on Wednesday, Ridley announced that Augusta National will support the USGA and R&A’s decision to roll back the golf ball to shorten the length of drives by as much as five percent. The news is momentous — all but ensuring the rule change will survive challenges from golf’s equipment manufacturers and some of its players — but how the chairman announced it was equally important.

“Adding distance to the Augusta National golf course has become standard operation over the past two decades,” he said, delivering the setup for a bone-dry punchline. “I’ve said in the past that I hope we will not play the Masters … at 8,000 yards.”

Ridley would circle back to the 8,000-yard comment only once throughout the presser — saying that 8,000 yards is a “red line” for the club if it hopes to continue hosting the Masters in a manner that maintains the course’s historic challenge — but he would apply the same subtlety liberally across almost every question he faced.

Like when the chairman was asked about women’s golf in the wake of record ratings for the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament. (“I think she’s sort of a unicorn, really,” he said of Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark. “We need more unicorns.”) Or about golf’s own falling TV ratings. (“You can draw your own conclusions. Certainly the fact that the best players in the world are not convening very often is not helpful.”) Or about the possibility the Masters could fail to have some of the best golfers in the world because of LIV’s OWGR battle. (“We never have had all the best players in the world because of the structure of our tournament.”) Or about the club’s feelings about hosting another pro event in the fall. (“We did have [a fall event] one time, and Dustin Johnson did … very well.”)

None of those statements were particularly notable for the sake of writing a bold-faced headline. None of them explicitly laid out the club’s plans for … anything. But if you were paying attention, you knew that Augusta National has its eyes and ears focused on replicating the success of women’s basketball in women’s golf, that the club isn’t happy about what a fractured men’s professional game has done to golf on TV, that the Masters is alright with withholding invitations from some LIV players who fail to achieve a certain OWGR threshold, and that the club desires to see another scoring record broken in a fall event about as much as it desires changing its color-scheme to neon pink.

You might not have heard those words from Ridley directly, but if you had your ears tuned to the right frequency, you didn’t need to. His answers were in Augusta English, the kind where fans are “patrons” and grandstands are “galleries” and nines are called “first” and “second” rather than “front” and “back.” English that is nonsensical to the uninformed, oddly satisfying to the well-versed, and utterly unimpeachable to the fluent.

And if you didn’t have your ears tuned properly? Well, there was something for you, too. It came at about the press conference’s 25-minute mark, when Ridley learned that Vijay Singh had suggested the club should lengthen the par-3 12th hole — arguably the most famous in the entire sport — to preserve its challenge.

For just a second, Ridley’s unflappable demeanor broke. His eyes bulged out of his head. His brain appeared to consider the possibility for a nanosecond, which was all it took for him to remember the fourth law of Augusta National: Some traditions are beyond reproach.

Ridley’s eyes returned to their resting state, and his blood pressure appeared to drop. He composed himself, delivered a low laugh, and then inhaled.

“I would say with a hundred percent certainty that it would not be lengthened during my tenure,” Ridley said with a wry, if still slightly indignant, smile. “That’s almost like asking, can we touch up the Mona Lisa a little bit? I mean, I think that the 12th hole at Augusta is the most iconic par-3 in the world. It has been and I won’t say it always will be — but I think it always will be.”

There was subtlety there, too. The revealing kind. Even the chairman of Augusta National is human enough to be stubborn. Funny, too.

Soon, Ridley stood from his seat and slowly walked toward the exit. The Chairman’s Press Conference was over, and Mr. Fred Ridley had upheld the fifth — and most essential — law of Augusta National.

At the Masters, the beauty is the subtlety.

James Colgan Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at

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