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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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”