2002 Masters: Three former champions skip Champions Dinner

Augusta, Ga. | Gay Brewer, one of three past champions who received letters over the winter from Augusta National chairman William “Hootie” Johnson that urged them to reconsider competing in this year’s Masters, did not attend the annual Champions Dinner on April 9.

“He told me he was devastated by what happened,” said Billy Casper, who along with Doug Ford, also received such a letter. “I tried to get him to reconsider. He said, ‘I’m going to Kentucky.’ ”

Masters champions traditionally have earned a lifetime invitation to compete. Brewer won the Masters in 1967, Casper in 1970 and Ford in 1957. Last year, Casper shot 87-80; Brewer withdrew after an opening 84; and Ford quit after one hole. None of them played this year.

Ford, saying his feelings were hurt, called the notification “the wrong way to do it, but it’s their tournament and they can do it the way they want to.”

In his annual “state of the Masters” press conference, Johnson stopped short of saying he regretted sending letters to past champions (“I don’t look back,” he said), but did say, “We regret that someone, anyone, is not comfortable here. And if they are not comfortable and they are not here, we regret that.”

The introduction of a formal policy to weed out noncompetitive aging Masters champions will be forthcoming. Johnson promised that “we will have one by next year. There will be no misunderstanding.”

The obvious possibilities: Implement an age limit similar to that of the British Open (former champions can play until they reach their 66th birthdays); Implement a performance standard (for example, if a former champion has not broken 80 for two consecutive years, he might become ineligible).

Past champions most eager to learn the new policy figure to be Gary Player, 66; Charles Coody, 64; and Tommy Aaron, 65. All three missed this year’s cut, although Aaron shot 79-78 and Player’s opening 80 was his highest round since 1993. He made the cut that year and in 1998. Aaron made the cut in 2000; Coody hasn’t played on the weekend since 1993.

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