Last year, it was Shubhankar Sharma. This year, it’s Shugo Imahira. Augusta National has extended a special invitation to Imahira to compete in the 2019 Masters, even though Imahira has not yet qualified.
Imahira, age 26, was the order of merit winner on the Japan Golf Tour in 2018 and finished the year just outside of the top 50 in the world (which would have qualified him automatically for the event). He still had three months to get inside the top 50, but Augusta National removed any ambiguity and extended the invite anyway.
“Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts established the Masters as a global sporting event, so throughout our history special invitations for deserving international players have always been carefully considered,” said Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley in a statement.
“We are pleased to continue this tradition by welcoming Shugo Imahira to our field this year based on his impressive record during the past 12 months. We look forward to hosting him and all of our Masters competitors in April.”
The inclusion of Imahira bumps an already-small Masters field from 79 to 80 with under 100 days to go. Players can still qualify by winning a PGA Tour event or by getting into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings the week before the Masters. Imahira finished his year in 2018 with 12 top-15 finishes in his last 14 events worldwide, including a win at the Bridgestone Open. As far as majors go, he missed the cut at the 2018 PGA Championship in August as well as cuts at the 2017 U.S. Open and 2016 Open Championship.
His current world ranking of No. 53 is about 20 spots better than Sharma’s last year when he was invited. According to Golf Digest, those are the only two special invites (non-qualifiers) to Augusta since 2013.