The Masters - Final Round
Getty Images

Augusta National Golf Club announced Thursday that it extended a pair of special invitations to the 2023 Masters that have been accepted by Gordon Sargent, the 2022 NCAA champion, and Japanese golfer Kazuki Higa. This bumps the Masters field to 80 golfers with three months until the tournament.

"The Masters Tournament prioritizes opportunities to elevate both amateur and professional golf around the world," Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement. "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."

Sargent, a 19-year-old sophomore at Vanderbilt who was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2022, is currently ranked No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and projects well at the PGA Tour level because of his swing speed and length off the tee. He is the first amateur to receive and accept a special invitation to the Masters since 2000 and the sixth amateur joining the field in 2023.

Though the Masters does not normally invite the NCAA champion to play in its event -- although the U.S. Amateur winner and runner-up are both invited -- it has made special exemptions in the past for a number of different players. If such exemptions are made, they are generally doled out closer to the tournament in April.

Higa is less well-known, but he has compiled six wins on the Japan Golf Tour and is ranked No. 68 in the world. He also won the Japan Golf Tour's order of merit in 2022. Higa has played in one major championship before, missing the cut at The Open Championship last July at St. Andrews by five strokes.

It's difficult to not contrast this news of the Masters spreading invites to global players and amateurs with its recent statement regarding the eligibility of golfers playing for LIV Golf. Such golfers are still invited to the Masters while eligible, but it's clear that Augusta National prefers one path over the other.

Professional golfers will still be able to qualify for the Masters the next three months by either winning a PGA Tour event or playing their way inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings by the week before the tournament.