Dreams of Masters invite has 1 LIV golfer playing in Dubai this week

Joaquin Niemann

Joaquin Niemann carded a 69 during the first round of his Dubai Desert Classic.

Getty Images

DUBAI — Last year at the Dubai Desert Classic, the driving range was all the rage. You remember, right? Patrick Reed tossing a tee at Rory McIlroy when the latter didn’t rush to shake his outstretched hand, having received a court summons from the former on Christmas Eve. 

This year, a much cheerier driving range between members of opposing golf tours. Joaquin Niemann arrived there late Monday morning wearing a huge smile. He was greeted from afar by Adam Scott, member of the PGA Tour’s Policy Board, a privileged corner of the membership that has been embattled by a LIV-fueled fracturing of the game. 

“National champion, very good,” Scott shouted to Niemann, whose most recent golf tournament was at the Australian Open, which he won. “Nice list of names on that trophy. Did you have a good look? 2009, spectacular.” 

He’s right. In addition to Adam Scott (2009), there’s Rory McIlroy (2013), Jordan Spieth (’14 and ’16), even Greg Norman five separate times. Scott And Niemann have more than that in common — they were teammates on the 2019 Presidents Cup team that nearly toppled the Americans, led by Tiger Woods.

2019 must feel like forever ago for these two, since Scott and Niemann were notably not teammates on the 2022 Presidents Cup team, as Niemann had committed to LIV Golf and was thusly banned from taking part. They have since lived very different lives — Scott leaning even further into PGA Tour leadership and Niemann doing the exact opposite by captaining a LIV team. All of this is part of the reason why it was nice to see them getting along Monday in Dubai. Not that you’d expect anything different, but because the last LIV golfer to play this tournament in competition had a lot of people rooting against him. 

Differences aside, a fair question exists: Why is Niemann here, anyway, as the only LIV golfer in the field? 

The answer is simple, but it extends back to Australia. Niemann earned a few things with that victory — firstly, he earned automatic membership on the DP World Tour, which allowed him to enter this field without needing an invitation. Secondly, he received a bunch of World Ranking points, boosting him from 82nd to 59th. Why that matters is something only the staunchest pro golf followers know — the top 50 at the end of the calendar year are invited to the Masters. 

Niemann didn’t quite crack the top 50 at end of 2023, but he knows there’s another cutoff coming up. If he can push his way into the top 50 by the end of March, he’ll earn a last-minute invite to Augusta National. That is why he’s here in Dubai, thousands of miles from home and the upcoming start of LIV’s 2024 season. 

“I know I want to be there and I know I want to play in those four events and I know if I play there, I have a chance to win,” Niemann said Thursday. “My goal is to get there.”

He’s off to a proper start. Niemann carved out a three-under 69 in the first round at Emirates Golf Club, placing him just two back of the early lead. If he can somehow win this week, he’d easily elevate into the top 50, likely in the range of 45th in the world. Only then comes the tricky part. 

Niemann’s LIV season begins in just two weeks, and will take up the majority of his time between now and the Masters. His ranking will only deteriorate as the weeks go by since LIV events do not award OWGR points. So even with a victory this week, Niemann’s place in the top 50 would still be at the mercy of other players across the world. 

Nonetheless, he’s traveled across the planet because there’s a chance it could happen. And a spot in the Masters means a chance to win a major, or finish top 4 — which gets you in the other majors — or finish top 12, which gets you an invite to the 2025 Masters. It’s a tricky mindset Niemann is forced into by the state of the pro game, as well as his own decision-making, especially for a player who was ranked in the top 20 just 18 months ago, but he’s accepted it.

“I think I deserve to be in the majors,” he said. “Obviously the World Rankings don’t show that but I think if I had to play every week with World Ranking [points], I know I would be in the majors. But it is what it is, and that’s why I’m here.”

Exit mobile version