Item: Augusta National amends Masters eligibility amendment.
On April 25, Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson announced that beginning with the 2004 Masters, only past champions age 65 or younger “who actively participate in tournament golf” would be eligible to compete. Active participation was defined as playing in 15 official or co-sponsored tournaments.
Six days later, that definition was revised to 10 events.
“The fact of the matter is we were not thorough with our research and we made a mistake,” Johnson said.
Translation: Johnson realized that six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, 64 in 2004, likely would be ineligible because he doesn’t play in enough tournaments.
This is a no-win situation for the Masters. It takes tradition very seriously, and past champions traditionally have enjoyed a lifetime invitation.
“If you look at qualification No. 1 in the Masters’ book for eligibility, it says ‘Masters champion, lifetime,’ ” Nicklaus said. “I think we earned that. And all the guys – if it’s Doug Ford or Billy Casper, Gay Brewer – earned that right to be able to play a lifetime. If they want to stop that from here on, that’s their choice.”
Unfortunately, some past champions abused the tradition and refused to bow out gracefully when it was obvious that their labored play and inability to complete rounds had become a detriment to other competitors and the tournament.
In the end, practicality overruled sentiment.
Item: South Korean wins Compaq Classic of New Orleans.
K.J. Choi is the first golfer from his country to win on the PGA Tour, underscoring once again that golf is a global game. He was the eighth first-time winner on Tour this season. And he became an instant celebrity in South Korea.
A recent inbound flight from the United States to South Korea, arriving at 4:30 a.m. local time, was greeted by more than 50 newspaper and television reporters. Why? Because LPGA star Se Ri Pak was on board. And early Monday morning, millions of South Koreans in Choi’s homeland tuned in to an ABC feed to watch Choi complete his four-shot victory.
Get ready, K.J. Your life has changed forever.
Item: Mackenzie, Kresge persevere.
At age 40, after going 0-for-508 on the PGA European Tour, Englishman Malcolm Mackenzie, who made his pro debut in Europe in 1981, finally found himself in the winner’s circle at the French Open. In 20 full seasons on the PGA European Tour, he has finished in the top 10 on 31 occasions, including a tie for fifth in the 1992 British Open. His only other victory came in the 1985 Zimbabwe Open on the South African Tour.
Cliff Kresge, 33, captured the Buy.com Tour’s Virginia Beach Open, making an improbable 45-foot chip for eagle to capture a playoff. He once considered walking off the course on the second hole of a U.S. Open qualifier, bothered by an opening bogey and what obviously was going to be a slow-moving day, but his playing partner told him he couldn’t quit. “You’re too good,” he told Kresge.
Kresge, married with a young son, considered giving up the competitive game for a sales job not all that long ago. Yet there he was Sunday, hoisting his first trophy as a member of the Buy.com Tour, and making a big stride toward returning to the PGA Tour.
Hope springs eternal. Golf is fickle, and on any given week, everything can fall into place. When the road to victory is long and tough, the spoils mean even more.