Reflecting on the loss of the Eisenhower Tree

By Jason SobelApril 7, 2014, 5:43 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – This is a story about a tree.

But really, it’s about so much more than that.

This is a story about a tree that was born lucky.

One estimation suggests there are more than 400 billion trees in the world. Some stand tall in parks, their limbs teeming with adventurous children on sunny afternoons. Others remain hidden in forests, angling and growing without causing so much as a double-take from human life.

This tree caused plenty of double-takes. And fist-shakes. And even a few knee-quakes and eventual backaches.

A loblolly pine that first grew its roots more than a century ago, this tree happened to be standing on what would become hallowed ground when Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones built their vision of Augusta National Golf Club. Located on the left side of the 17th hole, 180 yards from the tee – later expanded to 210 yards away – it became the most famous tree on the course. Heck, the most famous tree in golf. One of the most famous trees in the world.

This is a story about a tree with a name.

They called it the Eisenhower Tree – in a cruel twist of irony. President Dwight D. Eisenhower hated it. Every time he played the course’s penultimate hole, it seemed, he would hit his tee shot squarely into this tree.

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“He didn't like the tree at all,” recalled his friend, Arnold Palmer. “A couple of times he told me, ‘Arnie, if I could hit that tree enough to bring it down, I'd do it.’”

It happened so much that in 1956, Eisenhower proposed during the club’s governors’ meeting that this tree be cut down immediately. According to which ending you’d rather believe, Roberts either overruled the president or, not wanting to offend him, quickly adjourned the meeting.

Either way, this tree remained.

This is a story about a tree with a place in history.

“I played Augusta every year since that tree was a baby and I watched it grow up,” said Palmer, who won four Masters titles. “And, yes, I had encounters with it. I won the Masters one year when I hit it right into the tree and hit a 4‑iron from under the tree on to the 17th green. So it was a problem to everybody.”

Tommy Aaron, who won the Masters in 1973, hit his Pinnacle into this tree one year. All the locals promised him the balls always come down, but his never did. Well, not that day. The next day, though, he was walking by this tree with his caddie and – plop! – down came that Pinnacle, right in front of him.

Three years ago, four-time champion Tiger Woods hit a tee shot under this tree. In attempting to play his next shot, his foot slipped on the pine straw beneath it. Despite still saving par, he injured his Achilles and didn’t compete again for four months.

“I can't say some of the guys are going to miss it,” said Woods, who isn’t here this week, “but we are going to certainly see a difference. There's no doubt about that.”

This is a story about a tree that met its untimely demise.

On Feb. 16, 2014 it was announced that this tree was gone. A furious ice storm had ravaged Augusta, causing unrescuable damage to its limbs. Club officials, on the advice of arborists, had the tree uprooted and removed.

“The loss of the Eisen­hower Tree is difficult news to accept,” chairman Billy Payne said via statement. “Unfortunately, we were advised that no recovery was possible.”

The ensuing reaction ranged from sentimental (“It's a shame that it was destroyed,” said Jim Furyk) to rational (“I'm glad to see it go; I've hit it far too many times,” admitted Matt Kuchar) to philosophical (“Anything that lives will eventually die, I guess,” surmised Adam Scott) to existential (“It's a tree,” concluded Rory McIlroy).

This is a story about a tree no longer.

On Monday morning, before severe rains swept through the area and caused a suspension of the Masters practice round, volunteer marshal Franklin Wilson was asked where this tree had been located.

He pointed to a spot about 10 yards inside the left part of the fairway, on a little upslope. The ground was perfect green grass, nothing to show the aftereffect of this year’s storm or the death of one of the world’s most famous trees.

Nothing, that is, except one small pine cone, placed upright on the ground to memorialize this tree.

“Who put that there?” the marshal is asked.

“One of those guys,” he said pointing to some fellow volunteers. “He got tired of answering all the questions.”

There remain other questions about this tree. Where is it right now? What will happen to it? Will it be replaced?

There are rumors that it could be turned into benches, a more fitting memorial than the lone pinecone. There are rumors that another tree could serve as a replacement someday.

These matters either haven’t yet been determined or, like so many decisions at Augusta National, have remained classified until the time officials choose to make them known.

To wit: When the tournament’s media guide was first printed earlier this year, it included a course map showing the tree. When a revised edition was handed out this week, it included mention of the tree, but had removed it from the map.

All we know is that on a spot where history once sprouted from the ground, now stands nothingness. What was previously an old loblolly pine with a century’s worth of stories is now just a patch of grass like so many others on the course.

This is a story about a tree.

But really, it’s about so much more than that.

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”

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Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 7:45 pm

Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:

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Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:59 pm

The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:

1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.

2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.

3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.

4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.

5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.

6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.

7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.

8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.

9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.

10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.

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Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:28 pm

It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.

Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.

"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."

Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.

That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.

"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.

"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."