How Golfers Qualify to Play in the Masters Tournament

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The Masters golf tournament is technically an invitational. But that doesn't mean a committee of Augusta National Golf Club members sits down and decides who gets to play and who doesn't. There are qualifying criteria for playing in the Masters, and a golfer who meets one of those criteria automatically qualifies to receive an invitation to play. The Masters Committee does, however, have the discretion to invite international players would otherwise not qualify.

Masters Invitations Go To ...

Changes and tweaks to the qualifying criteria have been made over time. Here are the most recent Masters qualification requirements.

1. Masters Tournament Champions

If you win the Masters, you get a lifetime exemption to continue playing in the tournament for as long as you like. In the early 2000s, that was about to change—an age limit of 65 and under was scheduled to go into effect beginning in 2004, along with a minimum participation standard. But that rule was rescinded before it went into effect after lobbying by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Today, past champions are encouraged to stop playing once they reach a point where their score might be called embarrassing.

So, while it's a lifetime exemption for past champions, the spirit of this qualifying criteria is that past champs can play the Masters as long as they aren't embarrassing themselves or the tournament with very high scores.

2. Past Five U.S. Open Champions

A golfer who wins the U.S. Open receives a five-year exemption into the Masters.

3. Past Five British Open Champions

A golfer who wins the Open Championship receives a five-year exemption into the Masters.

4. Past Five PGA Championship Winners

Likewise, the winner of the PGA Championship receives a five-year exemption into the Masters.

5. Past Three Winners of The Players Championship

Each Players Championship winner receives a three-year Masters exemption.

6. Current U.S. Amateur Champion and Runner-Up

The U.S. Amateur is a match-play tournament, so getting into the championship match—even if you lose it—gets you into the Masters. But the golfers who qualify via this category must still be amateurs at the time of the Masters; turning pro forfeits the Masters invitation.

7. Current British Amateur Champion

Like the U.S. Amateur qualifiers, the British Amateur champ must still be an amateur at the time of the Masters. Unlike the U.S. Amateur exemption, only the British Am champ (not the runner-up) receives a Masters invitation.

8. Current Asia-Pacific Amateur champion

9. Current Latin America Amateur champion

The exemptions for the winners of the Asia-Pacific Amateur and Latin American Amateur championships are the most recent additions to the list of qualifying criteria for the Masters. In fact, Augusta National Golf Club was instrumental in the launch of both tournaments, using them to help grow golf in those respective geographic areas and create a more international Masters field.

10. Current U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion

The U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship is open to amateur golfers ages 25 and older. The effect of this qualifying criteria is to get a career amateur into the Masters field each year.

11. The First 12 Players In the Previous Year's Masters Tournament

If you can't win the Masters, you can still guarantee you get to come back the next year by finishing inside the top 12.

12. The Top Four Finishers in the Previous Year's U.S. Open Championship

More than four players may qualify here, as ties are included.

13. The Top Four Finishers in the Previous Year's British Open Championship

As with the U.S. Open, more than four players may qualify because ties are included.

14. The Top Four Finishers in the Previous Year's PGA Championship

Ties for the top four places also get a Masters Invitation.

15. Winners of PGA Tour events From Previous Masters to Current Masters

The "full-point allocation" is key, and it refers to FedEx Cup points. Opposite-field tournaments on the PGA Tour (those played the same week as another, bigger tournament) do not award full FedEx Cup points, so winning one of those lower-point events does not carry with it automatic entry into the Masters.

16. Those Qualifying for the Previous Year's Season-Ending Tour Championship

The Tour Championship's field is made up of the top 30 golfers in the FedEx Cup point standings.

17. The 50 Leaders on the Final Official World Golf Ranking

Those who qualify are the top 50 for the previous calendar year.

18. The 50 Leaders on the Current Official World Golf Ranking

Those who qualify are in the top 50 for the week prior to the start of that year's Masters Tournament.

Size of Masters Field

These Masters qualifications usually result in a tournament field of from 90 to 100 players.

The winners of what are considered major championships receive a lifetime honorary, non-competing exemption once their playing exemption expires. Those championships include the U.S. and British Opens, the PGA Championship, and the U.S. and British Amateurs. Those who hold these honorary exemptions may still show up at Augusta National during the Masters, practice on the course, and sign up for the Wednesday par-3 tournament if they wish.