Masters invites NCAA champ Gordon Sargent, Japan’s Kazuki Higa

Gordon Sargent
Gordon Sargent(Contributed)
Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 1:16 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - The Masters expanded its reach to elite amateurs on Thursday when it offered a special invitation to NCAA champion Gordon Sargent, the first time in more than 20 years an amateur received such an invitation.

Augusta National also awarded a special invitation to Kazuki Higa, who won four times on the Japan Golf Tour and captured the money list last year.

Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, said Higa and Sargent have accepted their invitations to compete in the 2023 Masters.

Both players will be first-time participants.

“The Masters Tournament prioritizes opportunities to elevate both amateur and professional golf around the world,” Ridley said. “Thus, we have extended invitations to two deserving players not otherwise qualified. Whether on the international stage or at the elite amateur level, each player has showcased their talent in the past year. We look forward to hosting them at Augusta National in April.”

Higa, 27, has seen six career victories on the Japan Golf Tour, four in 2022. He finished first on the Japan Golf Tour’s Order of Merit last year. He ranks 68 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Sargent, a 19-year-old sophomore at Vanderbilt, is the reigning NCAA Division I Men’s Individual Champion. He’s ranked 3 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

The last amateur to earn a special invitation was Aaron Baddeley of Australia in 2000, who was 18 when he beat a field that included Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie to win the Australian Open.

The Masters has a history of looking after elite amateurs, once inviting the Walker Cup team until the late 1980s. It currently invites the U.S. Amateur champion and runner-up, the British Amateur champion, the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and winners of the Asia-Pacific and Latin American amateur events it helped create.

Higa’s invitation was expected. The Masters has a history of inviting international players who have had sterling seasons without having regular access to the PGA Tour. The last special invitation went to Shigo Imahira of Japan in 2019.

Higa is No. 68 in the world and his four wins on the Japan Golf Tour include the Dunlop Phoenix in November, one of the strongest fields of the year in Japan.

The invitations bring the current field to 80 players.

Three qualification criteria remain active:

  • Winner of the 2023 Latin America Amateur Championship.
  • Winners of upcoming PGA Tour events that award a full-point allocation for the season-ending Tour Championship.
  • The 50 leaders on the Official World Golf Ranking published during the week prior to the Tournament.