Hootie Johnson Defends Augustas Policy
In recent months a group called the National Council of Women's Organizations, led by their spokeswoman Martha Burk, has been threatening Augusta National Golf Club and anyone even remotely associated with us for allegedly discriminating against women.
As the chairman of that club, I'd like to share some of my thoughts with you about the debate that has now spent several months meandering through the national press. Ms. Burk has misrepresented the issue.
For men of all backgrounds to seek a place and time for camaraderie with other men is as constitutionally and morally proper as it is for women to seek the same with women. Men and women have always occasionally sought out single-sex spheres in certain corners of their social lives, a habit that has always been a positive trapping of civil society. Women gather in book groups to study literature, in investment clubs to discuss the markets, or in fitness clubs to exercise. That they are able to make those choices is a fundamental freedom that most Americans believe is proper and important.
That standard goes both ways - that men seek the companionship of other men through sports and other leisure pursuits is equally desirable. The fact that Augusta National presents the Masters, a tournament admired worldwide, does not mean that the right to do so should be abandoned, let alone scorned.
If we wish to open all private organizations to men and women, as Ms. Burk and NCWO wish to do with Augusta National, the end is near for many uncontroversial and longstanding private groups. Women's colleges like Smith and Wellesley, historically black colleges like Spelman, the Girl Scouts of America, the Junior League, fraternities and sororities, would all have to be dissolved or radically changed from the single-sex profile that has become an essential part of their character and, indeed, the reason they are sought after. Do they, too, 'discriminate'?
At Augusta National, I and the other members enjoy playing golf with friends. Some of these members are business leaders who have been hailed for their work on behalf of women. At the same time, they enjoy the fellowship of this traditionally men's social club, one where golf serves as a diversion from life's more pressing business. I take seriously the original intent of the founder of this club, Bobby Jones, that there is virtue in a place of private retreat.
That was the original idea behind the tournament we present each year - to gather friends, by invitation, one week each year for sportsmanship. Mr. Jones invited his fellow golfers, and, out of regard for his legacy, the competition has become a major event in golf. Millions of Americans have enjoyed watching the tournament as patrons or on television. Over the last five years, the Masters has contributed over $15.5 million to charity, $3.3 in 2002 alone. Still, for more than seven decades, and during the several months a year we are open, the club has remained as it started, a place for friends to gather.
The notion that Augusta National is an enclave of sexist good old boys is ludicrous. Women regularly play the course, with no restrictions. All guests are treated the same, whether they are here to play golf or as patrons of the tournament. It is also incorrect to believe that Ms. Burk speaks for all women on this subject. She does not. In the latest issue of Golf for Women magazine columnist Sally Jenkins supports the right of Augusta National members to do as they please. Why, she asks, 'am I soft on Augusta? Because it is a tradition-bound, invitation-only private club, and I would defend both privacy and tradition with a gun.
Hundreds of letters from women have come to the club in support not only of our policy, but favoring our resolve not to be told what to do by an individual who knows nothing about us. A national survey that will be released tomorrow reveals that over 70 percent of Americans - men and women - support the club's right to make its own membership decisions. That is what we intend to do. Our members have historically shared a kindred spirit and a camaraderie that we view as being the heart and soul of our private club. Whether, or when, we have women as members is something that this club will decide alone, and in private.
How long Ms. Burk and her agenda will be given a voice is up to the media. But how long the public will pay attention is another question. Perhaps this kind of coercion is simply the way by which some political groups try to increase their own membership. It is for others to decide, from where they stand, whether threat-based tactics are appropriate.
But from here, it feels like some things are worth defending, and sometimes that means taking a stand. In my mind and in my heart, I know this is one of them.
(Hootie Johnson is chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club.)
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.
Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title
The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.
Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.
Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.
Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.
Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.