Notes Kid Friendly Players Pursuit Couples Quest

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Its all about the kids at the Masters this year.
 
First Augusta National officials put the Par 3 Contest on TV. The lighthearted event is always a crowd-pleaser, but the cute quotient was off the charts with players kids toddling around in miniature white coveralls. When the tournament begins Thursday, youngsters 8 to 16 will be admitted free.
 
They have to be accompanied by a season-ticket holder, of course, and its one child per ticket holder.
 
We are absolutely thrilled when we imagine how many of these kids will be influenced by this opportunity, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said Wednesday.
 
The Junior Pass Program is similar to the Royal & Ancients at the British Open, where juveniles have been admitted for free when accompanied by an adult the last few years. The idea behind adopting it for the seasons first major was twofold, Payne said.
 
The Augusta National members are committed to growing the game of golf, and getting kids interested is a big part of that. But because tickets to the Masters are so hard to come by, adults have rarely brought children once the tournament began.
 
The program also will help teach young fans golf etiquette, Payne said.
 
I thought, `What a great combination: Bring kids in to see their heroes and, at the same time, expose them to the great attributes of how our fans act and behave and enjoy the game of golf, Payne said. Thankfully, at Augusta, we dont have to worry about loss of ticket revenue. So it was just a good idea.
 
Payne wouldnt say how many children Augusta National expects'the club doesnt say how many badges it sells for the tournament. He did say the club has gotten very good feedback from ticket holders.
 
Masters officials also introduced Golf Goes Worldwide, asking people around the world to submit their ideas for expanding the game. Ideas can be submitted in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese and Korean until June 1 on www.masters.org.
 
Just hours later, there were ideas from more than a dozen people. Several suggested family discounts. Others said kids should be limited to nine holes or Par 3 courses. The ideas will be shared with golfs governing bodies, and could be used by Masters officials in the future.
 
Our two founders believed that we should not only put on the best tournament, but be a very positive influence in the game, Payne said. All we promise here is to give it our very best. This is a long-term undertaking. We think we are going to be successful, and were going to try real hard.
 
RECORD NUMBER
Gary Player finally has Arnold Palmer beat.
 
When Player tees off Thursday morning, it will be his 51st Masters. That tops by one the record he shared with The King for most Masters played. Player already holds the record for most consecutive British Opens played'46.
 
The word that comes to mind is thankful, the 72-year-old said. Most people my age are dead! To be able to walk around here easily, to be playing Augusta at my age is a great thrill.
 
Though hes only made the cut four times in the last 20 years, that hardly matters. The South African won nine major titles during his illustrious career, including three right here at Augusta National. He is one of only five golfers to win the career Grand Slam, and hes still a big draw, even with people who didnt see him play in his prime.
 
When he, Palmer and Jack Nicklaus played together in the Par 3, they drew some of the biggest cheers of the week so far.
 
Though Player said last year that he might stop at 51, dont count him out. Hes a fitness fanatic, and looks'and acts'years younger than he is. He may not be in contention at the Masters, but hes not embarrassing himself, either. He shot a 77 in the second round last year.
 
You never take it for granted, Player said, referring to playing in the Masters. Its a great thrill.
 
GOLD-MEDAL GOLF?
Golfers get silver, crystal and all kinds of baubles for winning tournaments. Why not gold?
 
Olympic gold, that is.
 
Making golf an Olympic sport could help expand the game, Phil Mickelson said. Sports included in the Olympic program are eligible for developmental funding, he said, and that could be used to create interest and support young players around the world.
 
We seem to be stagnant in growth. We lose as many golfers as we gain each year in the United States, Mickelson said. If we could make this an Olympic sport, I think golf could really grow.
 
The International Olympic Committee will vote next year on whether to add any new sports to the program for the 2016 Games. Golf was most recently considered in 2005, after baseball and softball were dropped from the London Olympics, but IOC voters rejected the idea.
 
Masters chairman Billy Payne, whose previous claim to fame was being the man who brought the 1996 Games to Atlanta, has made no secret of his desire to see golf as an Olympic sport. In fact, golf would have been played at Augusta National during the Atlanta Olympics had the IOC decided to include it in the program.
 
The pride of representing your country, which has always been displayed in golf through different kinds of formats, is very strong, very powerful and wonderful theater and entertainment, Payne said.
 
If golf ever does make the Olympic cut, count Mickelson in.
 
Having golf become an Olympic sport is a very important thing for the game of golf, he said. And I would definitely play if given the opportunity to represent my country.
 
MISTAKEN IDENTITY
Poor Trip Kuehne. He finally gets back to the Masters and no one seems to know who he is.
 
As winner of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, Kuehne'and the folks at Augusta National'have known since October that hed be playing in the Masters. But instead of his picture, his younger brother Hanks mug is in the official players guide.
 
And at Wednesdays Par 3 Contest, his name was spelled Keuhne on all the placards.
 
At least nobody called him Kelli.
 
DIVOTS
Fred Couples will try to make his 24th consecutive cut this weekend, breaking the record he currently shares with Gary Player. Couples is the only Masters champion to have never missed the cut at Augusta National. There are 20 players making their Masters debuts. Rory Sabbitini could already be out of the running this weekend. He won the Par 3 Contest and no Par 3 winner has gone on to win the Masters in the same year.
 

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