In Memoriam: Eisenhower's Tree

By Joe PosnanskiFebruary 17, 2014, 3:08 pm

SOCHI, Russia – So you probably heard that Augusta National had to take down Eisenhower’s Tree. When I was 24 years old, in the luckiest break of my career, I was hired to be the sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. There was no reason for anyone to believe I could handle such a job. Most of the time, I could not. But people in Augusta are kind.

The most significant part of the job, naturally, was writing the lead column during the Masters Tournament. This would have been especially exciting except for one small hurdle: I knew absolutely nothing about golf. Well, that’s an exaggeration. Tom Watson. Jack Nicklaus. Ben Hogan. I’d heard of them.

That’s about it, though. I’d never played a round of golf. I had never been to a golf tournament. I only vaguely recall ever watching golf on television – I watched Nicklaus at Augusta in ’86 and I seem to recall seeing Watson’s chip-in at Pebble Beach (in 1982). That about covered it, though.

And suddenly I was placed at the media center of the biggest golf tournament on earth. In those days, there was no Internet, no social media, no reading options. People who came to the Masters – from writing legends like Dan Jenkins and Jim Murray to the CBS television crew to golf fans who had built their lives around their Masters trip to the players themselves – had only one paper to read: The Augusta Chronicle. And I was writing the front-page column.


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It’s a good thing I was 24 and utterly clueless. Today I’d probably have a coronary.

Here’s what I remember: On the first day of my first Masters – I cannot recall if it was the Sunday before the tournament or the Monday – the sports editor, Ward Clayton, took me on a tour of the course. I had spent months studying up on Masters history and Augusta National’s lore. I spoke at length with Herbert Warren Wind, who coined the phrase “Amen Corner” for the 11th, 12th and 13th holes. I picked the brains of Jim Nantz, Davis Love III and Ben Crenshaw, who love the place as much as anyone. It was like cramming for a bar exam.

And then, Ward took me out on the course, and he showed me around. Augusta National was different then. There was no rough (or “second cut” as they insist on saying) and the holes were a lot shorter in places. Ward showed me the big oak tree outside the clubhouse – where I would spend countless hours waiting and waiting and then interviewing Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and the rest. He showed me the Hogan Bridge and the Nelson Bridge, both crossing over Rae’s Creek.

And he showed me Eisenhower’s Tree.

The tree was usually referred to as THE Eisenhower Tree – but I always preferred the possessive “Eisenhower’s Tree.” It rested by the 17th fairway, to the left from the golfer’s point of view, about 210 yards from the tee. It was said that Dwight Eisenhower when he was president and after hit that tree so many times that he asked for it to be removed. The image of that plainspoken Kansas man who planned D-Day barking, “Somebody get this damn tree out of my way,” is one of my favorite in all of sports.

Clifford Roberts’ and the club defied Eisenhower’s wishes – though I’ve never really known how serious Eisenhower was about it. I’m guessing he could have gotten that tree removed – heck he sent federal troops into Arkansas to enforce school integration. Anyway, I’m glad he didn’t follow up. Eisenhower’s Tree was gorgeous, as so many trees at Augusta National are. It was a loblolly pine, people who know such things told me. It was well more than 100 years old, and it liked to get in the way of golf shots, at least in the early days.

The stories. So many stories. Tommy Aaron once hit a ball that flew into the tree … and it didn’t come down. His caddie supposedly told him, “balls don’t stay in that tree,” but they couldn’t find it anywhere else. It had to be in the tree. Aaron played on without it. The next day Aaron was walking by the tree. A golf ball fell out.

Nicklaus hit that tree so many times that, at times, he would grumble, “Why didn’t they listen to Ike?” Tiger Woods hit a ball into that tree and then hurt himself trying punch it out from the pine straw. Tom Watson used to say that every time he walked by Eisenhower’s Tree he would remember to glance at it, pay his respects.

As time went on, Eisenhower’s Tree did play less and less of a role in the golf tournament. Golfers just hit the ball so much longer and higher than they did before the explosion in golf equipment technology. Don’t get Nicklaus started on how far golf balls fly these days. Bubba Watson, one of the longest hitters in the world, won at Riviera on Sunday and when asked about the tree said, “Yeah that’s a historic tree. I’ve never had a problem with that tree so it doesn’t really affect me much.” That’s frank but true. In the words of golf announcers, Eisenhower’s Tree was “not in play” for today’s golfers.

But I, like countless golf fans, never stopped loving it. During Masters week, when I did not know what to do – which happened pretty often – I would go to the 17th fairway and stand by Eisenhower’s Tree and just try to take it all in. Augusta National during Masters week, whatever else you might think of it, is one of the happiest places in the world. By that I mean everyone who is there is happy. Some of them dreamed of coming their whole lives. Some of them have been coming back, year after year, for generations. The weather is warm, the food is cheap, the grass glows green, and every time something good happens you can hear roars ringing through the pines.

In sports, in life, we attach meaning to things and places where we felt joy – that’s nostalgia and it’s part of what it means to be human. We love our first car, our first home, the movie theater where we saw “Star Wars” the first time or the Green Monster at Fenway Park. An old summer song can make us whiff the ocean and another time. Hearing Vin Scully say, “Pull up a chair and spend the afternoon with us,” can make us 13 again.

When Augusta National announced that the winter storms had forced them to take down Eisenhower’s Tree, I felt 24 again, just starting my first big job, full of hope and anxiety and a sense of wonder. I cannot calculate how many hours I spent under it or by it and just watched and listened. Augusta National has announced it will put something to honor Eisenhower and his golfing incompetence in its place – maybe it will be some kind of ball magnet that pulls majestic shots out of the sky (take that Bubba!). Sadly, time does move on. Even at Augusta National.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”