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Four reasons there will be so few British golfers at the 2024 Masters

Danny Willett winning the Masters
Willett won the Masters in 2016 but may not be able to compete this year - AP/Jae C. Hong

Danny Willett is still unsure if he will tee it up here at the 88th Masters as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery.

The Yorkshireman’s management insist he is determined to do all he can to play his first event since Wentworth last September because of the affection he has for the major he won eight years ago. As he reaches his decision Willett should perhaps be advised that his country needs him.

Without him, there will be only five UK golfers in the field and that will be the lowest Augusta representation in more than 30 years. As it stands, six would still be the fewest this century and would be a staggering drop from the 15 UK players who competed in the 2021 Masters.

From a rugby union team to a boy band in three short years.

There seem to be four reasons for this dramatic decrease at the tournament that Britain won four times in succession at the turn of the Nineties.

LIV Golf recruiting top talent

Lee Westwood of England pictured with his wife Helena and Ian Poulter of England during the LIV Invitational at The Centurion Club
Poulter and Westwood, having defected to LIV Golf, have probably played their last Masters - Getty Images/Matthew Lewis

Of course. There is not an aspect of the professional male game that the Saudi-funded breakaway has not affected and here, it appears, is another casualty of the golfing revolution. The main problem for LIV golfers being that, without world ranking points, their ability to qualify for the Masters is severely limited.

Three of the UK’s Masters competitors in 2021 jumped ship within 15 months of that major. Ian Poulter and Paul Casey have not played in the Masters since, with the former acknowledging last week that he never will again.

Having finished 14th in 2022, Lee Westwood recognises the same and is resigned to being stuck on 21 appearances, with two runner-up placings. He thinks time was probably up anyway.

“I missed out [in 2022] by one shot of coming in the top 12 who qualified for the next year, but maybe it’s a little cyclical because the British guys who would regularly get good finishes there aren’t getting any younger,” the 50-year-old said.

“Which Brits would be there from LIV now? Paul probably would have and perhaps Blandy [Richard Bland] would have finally made it the way he’s been playing. But it’s hard to say. The world rankings have hardly helped, have they?”

Rankings revamp penalising European players

Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia
Donald and Sergio Garcia at the 2012 Masters, when qualification was a simpler affair for Europe-based players - Getty Images/Jamie Squire

Westwood’s contention that LIV’s continued exclusion from the rankings system makes it almost unfeasible for the rebels to qualify via the world’s top 50 – the way the majority of golfers earn their Masters berths – is impossible to disagree with, regardless of whether you subscribe to the “they-made-their-bed” viewpoint or not.

But the rankings – and specifically, the rankings overhaul in 2022 – has apparently also worked against British major interests and goes so far to accounting for the dwindling UK delegation.

In August 2022, it came into effect that points are awarded to all players who make the cut in a tournament and using a field-rating calculation based on a statistical evaluation of every player in the field, rather than just those ranked among the top 200 like before.

In simple terms that means the PGA Tour now receives more points for its events than previously, with the DP World Tour a much poorer relation. Essentially the mechanism favours the PGA Tour by reducing the points for winning on other Tours as well as in limited-field events.

Padraig Harrington, the 2020 Ryder Cup captain, said that the European circuit has been “hammered” by the changes and his successor Luke Donald appears to agree. “If you talk to statisticians they tell you it’s now fairer, but it does seem a bit off,”  Donald told Telegraph Sport. “Maybe it was a little soft one way before and now it has gone too far in the other direction. They need to figure it out, because I don’t think it really puts a value on how difficult winning is, wherever a player wins and however big the field is.

“It looks harder than ever for some of our young guys to get into that world top 50 and from there into the biggest events.”

This includes the Masters and Poulter believes it takes the motivation away from the British hopefuls on the DP World Tour.

“When I first qualified for the Masters [in 2004] it was purely through my efforts on the European Tour,” he told Telegraph Sport. “If a young player compiled the same results now as I did then, they wouldn’t come close to entering the top 50. So that’s a route denied, just because people in Sawgrass wanted their Tour to be even more dominant.

“It’s a shame. Because never mind the players not fulfilling their dreams of playing Amen Corner, and realising they will now have to go to the US to have a chance, think about the kids watching at home. The Masters and seeing our Brit guys competing against the best was one of the reasons why people like me got into golf in such a big way.”

Green jackets getting old

.Ian Woosnam receives the green jacket from Nick Faldo after winning the 1991 Masters tournament
Woosnan received his green jacket from Faldo The pair were then guaranteed their Masters entries for life - Getty Images/David Cannon

If the likes of Westwood, Poulter and Donald have ventured too far past their prime to qualify, then Britain has seen the golden oldies – whose Augusta spots were guaranteed by dint of their green jackets – all run out of time.

Sir Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam played in 97 Masters between them and compiled a nation’s proud Georgia CV all on their own. Faldo won in 1989, 1990 and 1996, Lyle in 1988 and when Woosnam prevailed in 1991, Britain’s Augusta dominance was so pronounced there were rumours they were thinking of dying the members’ jackets red, white and blue.

However, with Lyle finally hanging up his spikes last year, 2024 will be the first time in 45 years that the field will not feature any members of the evergreen three-ball.

The UK could always rely on the trio swelling the numbers and the fact is that – Willett apart – the supposed golden generation that came in their wake failed to find a path to Butler’s Cabin.

The UK has boasted six top twos and more than 30 top 10s in the past 20 years. It is an impressive tally. But it has done nothing to shore up the size of the UK contingent.

Less young talent coming through

Matt Fitzpatrick at the Masters
Fitzpatrick is the flagbearer for the current generation of young British golfers - Getty Images /Patrick Smith

Whatever the importance of the rankings dispute or the LIV effect, there can be no doubt that Britain has a dearth of top-flight talent compared to recent times.

To think that just eight years ago at the Masters, there were six UK pros in the world’s top 10. Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is the only one this time around and many will point out that he plays for Ireland in the Olympics.

However, with Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton all in the top 20, there are still live hopes. “We might not have the quantity, but there is still definitely the quality,” Fleetwood told Telegraph Sport last week. “No reason for panic.”

He is right, but after so long with so many up there it is perfectly justified to look below and see who will arrive to supplement the troops.

Robert MacIntyre is in his first season on the PGA Tour and should eventually become established in the top 50, while Aaron Rai is consistently improving and nobody should give up on Matt Wallace. And there are good prospects coming through.

Alex Fitzpatrick, brother of Matt, has already proven himself a winner, while Scotland – without a Masters player for the first time in 35 years – have great hopes in 17-year-old Connor Graham.

The factory is still churning out potential superstars. Except, it appears, just not at the same pace and output.

Maybe the past few decades have been the exception and the UK must get used to a small, but talented detachment.

It is not the most ghastly proposition. Consider that when Lyle opened the shutters on Britain’s Augusta tee party there were only five countrymen alongside. Good swings sometimes come in small packages.

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