2003 Masters: Notebook: Johnson defends Auguta's no female membership policy

Augusta, Ga. | The annual chairman’s address at Augusta National Golf Club is one of the more entertaining events of Masters week, and this year’s conference drew a standing-room only crowd in the club’s media center.

Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson and assembled journalists from around the world engaged in some spirited give and take on the issue of the club’s highly scrutinized stance in regard to female membership.

Johnson started the session by reading a statement dealing with the long-standing controversy and then said he would have nothing further to add about the subject.

Once pressed, Johnson talked about it further.

Chicago Tribune reporter Ed Sherman told Johnson: “We have talked about this for 10 months, but you have not talked about this for 10 months.”

Johnson replied sharply, “I’ve made my statement. We are here to have the Masters tournament. I just told you if you have a question, I’ll answer it. But don’t lecture me.”

While Johnson surely hoped his opening statement would stave off further queries about the club’s membership policies, it turned out that the majority of the questions dealt with that topic. At one point, a reporter asked if Tiger Woods’ position that Augusta National should have women members had any influence on him. Johnson: “I won’t tell Tiger how to play golf if he doesn’t tell me how to run our private club.”

But perhaps the most telling lines were the ones the Augusta chairman spoke at the end of the news conference. “I do want to make one point, though,” he said. “If I drop dead right now, our position will not change on this issue. It is not my issue alone. And I promise you . . . if I drop dead this second, our position will not change.”

44The Palmer letter: Augusta National was going to institute an age limit of 65 for Masters participation starting in 2004, but recently it dropped the age limit much to the joy of several old-timers (Golfweek, April 9). A letter from Augusta member and four-time Masters champion Arnold Palmer to chairman Hootie Johnson apparently was the impetus. Johnson then changed the policy after meeting with Palmer and fellow member and six-time winner Jack Nicklaus two weeks before the tournament.

“Arnold was the key,” Nicklaus said. “He wrote a letter to Hootie and sent it to me and asked, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘You should send it, Arnold, it’s a nice letter.’ ”

Nicklaus sent one, too. However, after Nicklaus shot 85 in the first round, his highest Tour score ever, he might have been feeling differently.

When he ran into Palmer early Friday evening, Nicklaus cracked, “Why’d you have to write that letter?”

44Hot blades: Jeff Maggert had only 21 putts while shooting 66 in the third round and taking a two-shot lead after 54 holes. But, believe it or not, he did not have the best putting day on Augusta National’s slick, undulating greens.

Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Masters champion, had only 19 putts over 18 holes. He shot 70 and moved from a tie for 24th to a tie for 11th, six shots off the lead. O’Meara finished tied for eighth.

44Els’ nightmare start: How did world No. 2 Ernie Els shoot 79 in the first round despite missing only two fairways? Touch. As in lack of it.

“I missed shots on the wrong side (of greens) and had no touch,” said Els, who said it was difficult to return to the slick greens at Augusta National after not being able to play Thursday. “I was uncomfortable on the greens.”

Els shot 66 in the second round despite hitting shots into the water on the two back-nine par 5s, Nos. 13 and 15. He salvaged par each time. He needed a 15-foot par putt at 18 to rescue a third-round 72, a score that left him six shots behind 54-hole leader Jeff Maggert. Els made bogeys at 14 (where his second shot hit 4 inches from the hole and spun off the front of the green) and 15, where he hit yet another ball into the water.

“I’m afraid that those two holes may have cost me the tournament,” he said.

Els rebounded in the final round with a 2-under 70 to finish at 1-under 287 and tied for sixth.

44Three Musketeers: Two days after golf’s Big Three – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – played together in the Par 3 Contest, Augusta native Charles Howell III, Aussie Adam Scott and England’s Justin Rose – the Next Three? – played together in the tournament proper. At 23, Howell was the oldest player in his threesome, and he was happy to have a chance to play with two close friends.

“It was great,” Howell said. “We came in and played last Monday and Tuesday (March 31-April 1) together and I think we’re going to be playing against each other for probably, oh, the next 25 years. They (the tournament commitee) did that on purpose. A few of the members have come up and asked us how we liked that, and I think it’s fantastic.”

In the first two rounds, Howell shot 73-72, Rose shot 73-76 and Scott shot 77-72. In the end, Scott finished tied for 23rd at 293, Howell tied for 28th at 294 and Rose tied for 39th at 297.

44Record for Jack: Jack Nicklaus’ opening 85 in the first round was his highest score on the PGA Tour in 2,236 rounds. His previous high was an 83 in the first round of the 1981 British Open. “I didn’t enjoy the last two days,” the 63-year-old Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, said after a second-round 77. “And I didn’t play halfway decent.”

Nicklaus had a whopping 41 putts in the first round.

44Student/teacher advice: Instructor Rick Smith worked with his prized pupil, Phil Mickelson, after the golfer tuned up for the Masters with a 79 at the BellSouth Classic. They talked swing and more. “I told him, ‘You’ve already won a major – the U.S. Amateur,’ “ Smith said. “Now let’s go play golf.”

Mickelson finished third at 5-under 283. It was the third consecutive third-place finish for Mickelson.

44First-timers excel: Eleven of the 16 first-time Masters contestants made the 36-hole cut. They were amateurs Ricky Barnes, Hunter Mahan and Ryan Moore and pros Rich Beem, Jonathan Byrd, K.J. Choi, Pat Perez, Chris Riley, John Rollins, Justin Rose and Phil Tataurangi.

Byrd had the best finish with a tie for eighth at even-par 288.

44Woods’ cut streak alive: Tiger Woods extended his streak of consecutive PGA Tour events in the money to 102. He got up-and-down for par from a bunker on his last hole (No. 9) of the second round to make the cut on the number at 5-over-par 149. He trails only Jack Nicklaus (105) and Byron Nelson (113).

44The Mechanic’s ‘do: Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, aka The Mechanic, hasn’t cut his hair in almost a year. Hence, he is sporting a long Spafro, or Spanish Afro, that prompts ribbing from his fellow pros.

“They try to make some jokes when they see it,” said Jimenez, who played Friday with his hair pulled back into a short pony tail. “ ‘Do you have a bird in there, or what?’ Like a bird’s nest, you know.”

44Short shots: The 5-over 149 cut was the highest of the 2003 PGA Tour season. . . . Mike Weir’s four-shot lead was the largest 36-hole Masters advantage since Greg Norman led Nick Faldo by four in 1996. The Masters record for biggest midway lead is five shots. . . . Weir had never held a 36-hole lead before. He had been up twice after the first round and five times after the third but never won a tournament in which he led after a round. All five of his victories came from behind. Also, Weir came into the Masters No. 1 in third-round scoring (67.00), but shot 75. . . . The 465-yard 18th hole played so long that playing partners Brad Faxon and Chris DiMarco each hit 3-wood into the green in the first round. . . . Ryan Moore’s eagle on No. 13 in the first round was the first eagle by an amateur at the Masters since Danny Green eagled No. 9 in 2000. . . . K.J. Choi birdied his first three holes, tying the record for best start by a first-year player set by Milon Marusic in 1953. . . . Tiger Woods’ first round was his first without a birdie since the third round of the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. . . . Forty international players were in the 93-man field, breaking the record set last year. . . . The Par-3 Tournament jinx continues. No player has ever won that Wednesday 9-hole exhibition and the Masters the same week. This year, David Toms and Padraig Harrington tied with 21. Harrington missed the cut, and Toms tied for eighth. . . . The highlight of Ernie Els’ third-round 72 was an eagle-2 at the 410-yard seventh hole, where he holed a 9-iron from 151 yards. It was the first eagle on that hole since Larry Mize made 2 in 1999, and marked the second time Els made eagle there (Els also did it in 1997). . . . Just how deep are the new bunkers on the left side of the fairway on the revamped fifth hole? “Apparently Hootie (Masters chairman Johnson) has some connections with the military because it looks like they dropped a couple of bunker-busting bombs in there,” Woods said. . . . Rich Beem eagled the 455-yard, par 4 fifth hole Sunday. . . Thomas Bjorn withdrew before play began because of family reasons. . . . Chris DiMarco, with no chance of making the cut and one hole to play Saturday to complete the suspended Round 2, returned home to Orlando instead.

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