Wednesday Notes from Augusta

By Golf Channel NewsroomApril 9, 2003, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- It's a tradition like no other: an aging golfer strikes a shot at the first hole to signal the start of the Masters.
Not this year.
Sam Snead, who hit the ceremonial tee shot in 2002, died six weeks later at age 89. The club didn't replace 'Slammin' Sam,' marking the first time since 1980 that the tournament will begin without an honorary starter.
'He loved this tournament,' Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said Wednesday on the eve of the opening round. 'He was a great contributor to our heritage. And we will miss him.'
Augusta National began having honorary starters in 1963, when Jock Hutchinson and Fred McLeod assumed the role. No one is quite sure why those two were picked.
Hutchinson played in the Masters 11 times, but he made the cut only once and never finished higher than 51st. McLeod's best finish in 15 trips to Augusta National was 50th.
Hutchinson was an honorary starter until 1973, McLeod lasted three more years. No one held the role from 1977-80, but Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen -- with three victories between them -- took over in '81.
Ken Venturi filled in for an ailing Nelson in '83, but Lord Byron returned the following year to find himself in a threesome. Nelson and Sarazen were joined in 1984 by Snead, a three-time winner.
That group lasted until 1999, when Sarazen died. Nelson dropped out after 2001 because of advancing years. Snead went solo last year despite failing health, knocking his shot into the gallery and striking a fan in the face.
Johnson said the tournament likely will hold off naming another honorary starter until four-time champion Arnold Palmer decides to hang it up.
Palmer said the 2002 Masters would be his last, then changed his mind after Johnson reversed the policy regarding past champions. The 73-year-old Palmer would like to play through next year, which would be his 50th Masters.
'I have talked with Arnold about being an honorary starter,' Johnson said. 'And he has said that he would be honored to be one at the appropriate time.
'He still feels that he's playing enough active golf, tournament golf, that he doesn't want to do that now. But I am hopeful that we will have him some time in the future. And we're going to wait on him.'
Related Link: Arnie, Jack Can't Say Goodbye
Protest Numbers
Martha Burk may be trying to lower expectations for the turnout at Saturday's protest on the issue of women members at Augusta National.
Burk said Wednesday that a conservative group she did not name was offering people $75 to book a seat on a protest bus to Augusta if they would reserve the seat and not show up.
'That could affect our numbers,' Burk said.
Her group has a permit to protest during Saturday's third round. After a court ruling was not overturned Wednesday, the protest will take place at a 5.1-acre site near the course but not at the front gate as Burk wanted.
Burk hoped to have 24 people protesting at the gate and another 200 across the street.
Related Links: Last Stop on the Protest Line

Rain Disrupts Par-3
Padraig Harrington and David Toms were declared co-winners of the par-3 contest, which barely got going before the rains came.
Harrington and Toms each had a score of 6 when storms brought the popular event to an end. Many players didn't even get on the nine-hole, 1,060-yard course.
Davis Love III had the only hole-in-one, sinking his tee shot at the 70-yard second hole -- the shortest on the course.
No player has ever won the par-3 tournament and gone on to win the Masters in the same year.
Happy Haas
What a deal: Jay Haas traded in a weekend in front of the TV for a chance to play at Augusta National.
The 49-year-old PGA Tour veteran finished second at The Players Championship two weeks ago to move into the top 10 on the money list and qualify for the Masters.
'It's pretty special,' said Haas, making his first appearance here since 2000. 'Two, three years ago, it was looking like I'd never make it back.'
But Haas has been on quite a resurgence of late, thanks to a change he made in his putting after working with part-time PGA Tour pro Stan Utley.
'It got me interested in the game again,' Haas said. 'I was getting frustrated out there, trying to grind and grind and grind and not feeling like I was getting anywhere.'
Less than a year from becoming eligible for the Champions Tour, Haas hardly seems like a guy ready to go play with the seniors. He has two second-place finishes this year, is sixth on the money list and has moved from 125th to 31st in the world rankings.
'I'm happy to be here,' Haas said. 'Now, the goal is to make sure I get to come back.'
He can guarantee a return trip by finishing in the top 16.
Garcia's 'Big' Swing Change
Sergio Garcia is still trying to get used to his new swing.
Garcia has altered his back swing, trying to make his follow-through a little longer and get his club aiming at the target.
'It's a big change,' the Spaniard said. 'And it's not easy. I'm getting used to it a little bit, and I just think it's feeling better.'
Garcia made the change about a month ago after consulting with his father. They hope it will lead to more consistency.
'We decided it was the right time,' Garcia said. 'I felt like it was getting a little away from me, the other swing. So I just tried to improve it a little bit.'
So far, so bad. Garcia missed the cut at Bay Hill and The Players Championship, which can't help his confidence coming to Augusta.
'This is always one of those weeks where you try that bit extra,' Garcia said. 'Hopefully, my swing will come together and we will be able to have a good week.'
Related Links:
  • Arnie, Jack Can't Say Goodbye
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.