Fifty Years of Masters Memories for the King

By George WhiteApril 5, 2004, 4:00 pm

A wide-eyed young man pulled up to the gates of Augusta National Golf Course 50 years ago. He was going to play the 1955 Masters. His name was Arnold Palmer, and in truth, he didnt cause much of a stir among the people who go to the tournament each year. They had heard of Johnny Palmer, who had already played in 11 Masters, finishing fourth one year. Many had heard of Ray Palmer, who played in the 1954 Masters. But few knew ARNOLD Palmer.

Hes going back to that place this year, and its safe to say that every golf fan in the world now knows Arnold Palmer. It will be the 50th time he has walked to the first tee. It will also be the final time for this icon, now 74 years old. He has become the face - and the soul - of the Masters.

I had been to Augusta as a college student, said a suddenly reminiscent Palmer, recalling his days in North Carolina in the late 40s at Wake Forest University. And in 1955, I was a hustling, bustling 25-year-old.

And even though I didnt have any money, I had a wife, a trailer and a car, and I was happy. I was doing what I wanted to do.

The beauty of the place was what immediately stuck in Arnolds mind ' the luscious greens, the vibrant reds and pinks and yellows of the lively hued flowers, even the whites of the sand traps and the stately old clubhouse. Palmer was in love, and hes been in love ever since.

When I got on the golf course, I knew there was nothing prettier, more suited to what I wanted to do in the world ' to be there playing in the Masters, he said.

Arnie shot a 76 in the first round, then backed that up with another 76 in the second. He was a young man just gawking at everything that was Augusta. But by the third round, he was acclimated. He got it back to even-par 72. And in the final round, he showed a little bit of that Palmer magic, firing a 69 and finishing the tournament in a tie for 10th.

He still recalls the winner ' Dr. Cary Middlecoff, who stunned the field with a seven-shot win over second-place Ben Hogan. And the Nelsons, the Sneads, Sarazen and Revolta ' it was a thrill because these were the people that I had just read about and envied to the end. And I was among them, he said.

And that ' that was the ultimate. If I had failed in my endeavors to be a professional, it was just that I had a great adulation for the guys that were successful. It was a distraction to me, and when I played, it was a distraction because I was always looking to see what they were doing. And the reason I was successful is because I was scared that they were gonna beat me.

And that just made me play a little bit harder. And I am thankful for that.

By 1958, in his fourth attempt, Palmer was a winner at the Masters. In 1960, he repeated, making birdie on the final two holes to squeeze past Ken Venturi. In 1962 he won again with birdies on two of the last three holes. And he won his fourth in 1964, claiming a six-shot victory that told the world he truly was The King ' even though he doesnt particularly like the nickname.

Ive lost tournaments that have broken my heart ' I mean, I couldve sit down and cried, I couldve left the game and never come back, said Arnie.

But Ive also won a lot of tournaments the same way ' when I broke someone elses heart. And I remember those things. And I think, you know, the Masters ' I get more acclaim for having won four times, and maybe I deserve it. But winning the Masters once was great; winning it twice was even greater; three times, I know everybody said, Boy, youve won the Masters three times, isnt it great?

But to win the Masters a fourth?

One of the greatest thrills was walking up to the last hole with Dave Marr with a six-shot lead and knowing that unless I dropped dead, I wasnt going to lose. And that was fun, that was what golf is to me ' winning.

Of course, there were the heartbreaks

And then I can go to disasters ' ah, I lost the Masters in 6l when I was overconfident. I got ahead of myself and that is another thing my father taught me. He says, Dont ever accept it until the final putt is in the hole.

And I think about that. A friend of mine was standing on the sidelines (on 18) and I had just birdied the 17th hole to take a one-shot lead over Gary Player. And he (the friend) put out his hand to congratulate me and I went over there and thanked him. And I had the ball sitting right in the middle of the 18th fairway.

And I didnt shank it, but it came as close as I could to shanking it. And long story short, I made six and lost.

It wasnt fun, but it wasnt disaster either. I had an outpouring of friends and fans that made me understand they arent there just because I won. They were there because they are my friends.

Fifty years of Sarazen and Snead and Nelson and Hogan of Trevino and Weiskopf and Nicklaus of Watson and Floyd and Ballesteros and Woods and Els and Singh and Montgomerie. Arnold Palmer has seen them all, played them all, and now he is going to say goodbye.

Left unsaid is that Palmer himself is now the legend that he so idolized long ago. Now HE is that man that many of the young players look at in awe. And now, it is time for him to say thanks for half a century of memories.

The most important thing to me, I suppose, is not the actual strokes or the tournaments ' its more what I can do for the game, or what I have done to improve the game, he says. What I hope the impressions that I have left would be, young people or old people - I would like to look at it and say, Were got to protect the heritage of the game of golf. That would be what I would envision and like to see happen.

He will miss the competition, he will miss the manly give-and-take of the locker rooms, and will especially miss the roars of the fans.

Of course, I think it's going to be exciting for me and it's going to be somewhat sentimental, he says of this, the 50th. But most of all, its an opportunity to say goodbye to all of the fans who have been so supportive over the last 50 years and have been the reason that I have played as long as I have.
Related links:
  • Full Coverage - The Masters Tournament
  • Masters Photo Gallery
  • Arnold Palmers 50th Masters
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    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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    Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

    The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

    For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

    There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

    “It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

    But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by paints a different picture.

    Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

    “I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

    Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

    “No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

    It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

    Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

    The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

    You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

    How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

    “The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

    Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

    The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

    Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

    Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

    “If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

    It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

    Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

    The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

    That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

    Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

    From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

    Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

    She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

    She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

    Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

    With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

    The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

    She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

    The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.