Like all four golf majors, The Masters is an exclusive event, with competitors needing to meet stringent, perhaps lofty, requirements to walk the grounds at Augusta National Golf Club during the first weekend in April. It's not an open event, unlike the U.S. Open, which competitors can gain entrance to by going through a series of qualifying events. Either a player meets The Masters' qualifying requirements or they try again next year.
The Masters pays tribute to the most famous amateur golfer to have played the game, Bobby Jones, in a few ways -- most notably the entrance requirements. Multiple amateur players are granted entrance to The Masters by virtue of the following qualifications: U.S. Amateur Champion and runner-up, Current U.S. Amateur Public Links Champion, British Amateur Champion, Asian Amateur Champion and U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion.
Major winners are also granted exemption in a few different ways. Masters winners are granted a lifetime exemption, which is why you'll see Tom Watson, Craig Stadler, Mike Weir and a few others next week. Winners of the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship are granted a five-year exemption, as well. The winner of the tournament dubbed the fifth major, The Players Championship, is also given an exemption lasting three years.
Additionally, players who were close but came up short in last year's majors are also given an exemption into The Masters. The top 16 and ties from the 2011 Masters, the top eight and ties from the 2011 U.S. Open, the top four and ties from the 2011 British Open and the top four from the 2011 PGA Championship are all invited to this year's tournament.
Players who have won a full-purse PGA Tour event in the last year, spanning from the week after the 2011 Masters to this weekend's Shell Houston Open, are also given a pass into this year's events. For many, this weekend's Shell Houston Open is one last shot to make the field. The winner will quickly shuttle off to Augusta, creating a long, but rewarding, week. Those who qualified for the final 2011 Fed-Ex Cup event, The Tour Championship, are also granted an exemption into this year's Masters.
Finally, there's the rankings and lists. The top-30 on the 2011 PGA Tour money list, the top-50 players from last year's final Official World Golf Rankings and the top-50 from this year's Official World Golf Rankings, calculated through the Shell Houston Open, are all invited to the party.
So there you have it: 19 different ways to qualify for The Masters, joining a field of the world's elite golfers at the most exclusive country club in the US. Nothing to it at all.
The field will be set on Sunday, following the conclusion of the Shell Houston Open.