The Man Behind the Changes
''I'd like to tell you I was right there when Sarazen hit that shot,'' he said.
Truth is, Johnson doesn't remember hardly anything about that day. He was only 4.
Still, the ''shot heard 'round the world'' would seem to have made quite an impression on Johnson, who has fired off one volley after another since taking over as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club four years ago.
Since then, Johnson has directed more substantial changes to golf's most prestigious tournament than the previous three men combined who followed co-founder and chairman Clifford Roberts in 1977.
- The criteria for getting invited to the Masters no longer include winning a PGA Tour event. Johnson revamped the qualifications in 1999 to rely more on the world ranking and the PGA Tour money list to get a stronger, deeper field.
- He introduced a second cut of rough at Augusta.
- TV coverage of the final round will be expanded to 18 holes for the first time this year, instead of starting when the leaders are making the turn.
- In the most drastic change of all, he oversaw the biggest renovation at Augusta National since it opened in 1933, adding up to 285 yards by lengthening half of the holes.
A Masters maverick? Johnson wouldn't hear of it.
A man who chooses his words carefully, one of the few stories the 71-year-old banker enjoys telling is the time a woman approached Roberts after one particular Masters.
''This lady told Mr. Roberts, 'You had such a wonderful tournament.' And he said, 'Thank you, ma'am, but we really never get it right.' That sums up our philosophy,'' Johnson said.
The legacy he wants to leave is not one of innovator, but simply to preserve the tradition, which he calls the goal of every chairman.
No one is as steeped in Augusta tradition as Johnson.
He was born William Woodward Johnson in Augusta on Feb. 16, 1931, about the time construction began on Augusta National (A childhood friend gave him the nickname ''Hootie'' when he was 5).
His family moved to South Carolina, where Johnson starred in football and was a second-team fullback at the University of South Carolina in the early 1950s.
''He wasn't a glory hunter,'' said Johnny Gramling, the Gamecocks' quarterback on those teams. ''He was just a low-key guy who hustled.''
That style served Johnson well.
He became the youngest bank president in South Carolina in 1965, taking over Bankers Trust of South Carolina. In 1986, Bankers Trust merged with North Carolina National Bank to form NationsBank, which eventually merged with BankAmerica.
His political influence is strong.
Johnson was a key figure in integrating higher education in South Carolina in 1968, getting the state to pay for an undergraduate business program at South Carolina State, which then was attended only by blacks.
''It's about nothing more or less than doing the right thing,'' Johnson told Golf Digest in a 2000 interview. ''It was the most satisfying public service work I've ever done.''
A few years later, he invited South Carolina State president M. Maceo Nance to serve on the board at Bankers Trust, the first black appointed to a bank board in the state.
Johnson first played Augusta National when he was 23 and was invited to join in 1968. He became vice president of the club seven years later, and his relationship with Roberts blossomed, especially since they shared interests in banking.
Asked what he admired the most about Roberts, Johnson cited his intellect, dedication to the club, his dry wit and ''being tough as nails.''
And how many of those traits apply to Roberts?
''I think I'm pretty good with people, and I can be tough if I have to,'' he said. ''I have tried to have a similar dedication - something close to what he had - to the club. I wouldn't say I have the same dedication, because I doubt if anyone ever has.''
Arnold Palmer is not so sure. Palmer became the first former Masters champion invited to join Augusta National in 1999. Jack Nicklaus became a member last year.
''Cliff Roberts set the pace many years ago, and I would say Hootie is right in the pattern,'' Palmer said. ''He runs the club in the way you would anticipate the chairman to run Augusta National.''
More Masters News
Snedeker leads by one heading into final round
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Brandt Snedeker took a one-stroke lead into the final round of the weather-delayed Wyndham Championship after finishing the third round Sunday with a 2-under 68.
Snedeker was at 16-under 194 through three rounds of the final PGA Tour event of the regular season. Brian Gay and David Hearn were at 15 under, with Gay shooting a 62 and Hearn a 64.
Thirty players were on the course Saturday when play was suspended because of severe weather. After a delay of 3 hours, 23 minutes, organizers chose to hold things up until Sunday morning.
Snedeker, who shot an opening-round 59 to become just the 10th tour player to break 60, is chasing his first victory since 2016 and his second career win at this tournament.
Olesen edges past Poulter in Ryder Cup standings
With only two weeks left in the qualification window, Thorbjorn Olesen is now in position to make his Ryder Cup debut.
Olesen finished alone in fourth place at the Nordea Masters, two shots out of a playoff between Thomas Aiken and eventual winner Paul Waring. Olesen carded four straight sub-70 rounds in Sweden, including a final-round 67 that featured three birdies over his final seven holes.
It's a tight race for the fourth and final Ryder Cup spot via the World Points list, and Olesen's showing this week will allow him to move past Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, both of whom didn't play this week, into the No. 4 slot. Olesen is now also less than 40,000 Euros behind Tommy Fleetwood to qualify via the European Points list.
The top four players from both lists on Sept. 2 will qualify for next month's matches, with captain Thomas Bjorn rounding out the roster with four selections on Sept. 4. Poulter and Casey will both have a chance to move back in front next week at The Northern Trust, while the final qualifying week will include the PGA Tour event at TPC Boston and Olesen headlining the field in his homeland at the Made in Denmark.
Even if Olesen fails to qualify automatically for Paris, the 28-year-old continues to bolster his credentials for a possible pick from his countryman, Bjorn. Olesen won the Italian Open in June, finished second at the BMW International Open three weeks later and has now compiled four top-12 finishes over his last five worldwide starts including a T-3 result at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational earlier this month.
In addition to the players who fail to qualify from the Olesen-Poulter-Casey trio, other candidates for Bjorn's quartet of picks will likely include major champions Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.
Thompson bounces back from rule violation
If Lexi Thompson’s trouble in the sixth fairway brought back any painful memories Saturday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, she shook them off in a hurry.
If the approach of another rules official amid a spirited run of brilliant play rattled her, she didn’t show it.
Thompson posted an 8-under-par 64 in the third round despite another awkward rules infraction.
Her round was impressively bogey free but not mistake free, and so her work will be a little harder Sunday chasing Lizette Salas.
After incurring a one-shot penalty for violating a local rule in effect for preferred lies, Thompson will start the final round five shots back instead of four.
She knows she’s fortunate she isn’t six back.
If a rules official hadn’t witnessed Thompson in the middle of committing the infraction, she could have been assessed an additional penalty shot for playing from the wrong spot.
Thompson got the penalty after stepping on the 10th tee and blowing her drive right, into the sixth fairway. She got it after picking up her ball over there and lifting, cleaning and placing it. She got it because she wasn’t allowed to do that in any other fairway except for the fairway of the hole she was playing.
The preferred-lie rule was distributed to players earlier in the week.
The story here isn’t really the penalty.
It’s Thompson’s reaction to it, because she opened this week in such heartfelt fashion. After skipping the Ricoh Women’s British Open to take a month-long “mental break,” Thompson revealed this week that she has been struggling emotionally in the wake of last year’s highs and lows. She opened up about how trying to “hide” her pain and show strength through it all finally became too much to bear. She needed a break. She also candidly shared how the challenges of being a prodigy who has poured herself into the game have led her to seek therapists’ help in building a life about more than golf.
That’s a lot for a 23-year-old to unload publicly.
Last year may have been the best and the worst of Thompson’s career. She said dealing with that controversial four-shot penalty that cost her the ANA Inspiration title, watching her mother battle cancer and losing a grandmother were cumulatively more difficult to deal with than she ever let on. There was also that short missed putt at year’s end that could have vaulted her to Rolex world No. 1 for the first time and led to her winning the Rolex Player of the Year title. She still won twice, won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and was the Golf Writers Association of America Player of the Year.
That’s a lot of peaks and valleys for a young soul.
That’s the kind of year that can make you feel like an old soul in a hurry.
So seeing a rules official approach her on Saturday, you wondered about Thompson gathering herself so quickly. You wondered what she was thinking stepping up and ripping her next shot 215 majestic yards, about her hitting the green and saving par. You wondered about how she bounced back to birdie 13 and 14 and finish bogey free.
With this week’s soul bearing, you wondered a lot about what rebounding like that meant to her.
We’re left to wonder from afar, though, because she wasn’t asked any of those questions by local reporters afterward. The transcript showed three brief answers to three short questions, none about the penalty or the challenge she met.
Of course, there were other questions to be asked, because local rules have been an issue this year. Did she read the local notes with the preferred lies explanation? She got hit with another local rules issue in Thailand this year, when she hit her ball near an advertising sign and moved the sign, not realizing a local rule made the sign a temporary immovable obstruction.
Of course, there were other good stories in Indy, too, with Sung Hyun Park poised to overtake Ariya Jutanugarn and return to Rolex world No. 1, with Salas holding off Park so brilliantly down the stretch Saturday.
Thompson, though, is the highest ranked American in the world. She’s the face of American women’s golf now. A face more tender, resolute and vulnerable than we have ever seen it.
Folks along the ropes watching her on the back nine in Indy Saturday got to see that better than any of us.
Salas capitalizes on Park gaffe to take Indy lead
INDIANAPOLIS – Lizette Salas waited patiently for Sung Hyun Park to make a rare mistake Saturday.
When the South Korean mishit her approach shot into the water on the par-4 16th, Salas capitalized quickly.
She rolled in her birdie putt then watched Park make double bogey – a three-shot swing that gave Salas the lead and the momentum heading into the final round of the Indy Women in Tech Championship. Salas closed out her 8-under 64 with a birdie on No. 18 to reach 21 under – two shots ahead of Park and Amy Yang.
“I have been striking the ball really well, and I just had to stay patient,” Salas said. “And yeah, putts dropped for sure. I just really felt comfortable.”
If she keeps it up one more day, Salas could be celebrating her first tour win since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship and her second overall. With five of the next six players on the leader board ranked in the world’s top 30, Salas knows it won’t be easy.
The changing weather conditions weather might not help, either. If the forecast for mostly sunny conditions Sunday holds, the soft greens that have kept scores at near record-lows through the first three rounds could suddenly become quicker and less forgiving.
But the 29-year-old Californian seems to have the perfect touch for this course, which weaves around and inside the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
She shot three sub-par rounds and finished tied for fifth last year here. This year, she has three more sub-par rounds including a course record-tying 62 on Thursday and has been atop the leader board each of the first three days.
“I have been so confident the whole year,” Salas said. “I have a different mentality, I’m a different player. So I’m just going to go out and play as if I’m behind.”
Salas’ toughest challenge still could from Park, who spent most of Saturday flirting with a 54-hole scoring record.
She birdied the last four holes on the front side and made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to reach 21 under with a chance to become the sixth LPGA player to ever finish three rounds at 23 under.
The miscue at No. 16 changed everything.
She never really recovered after dropping two shots, settling for par on the final two holes for a 66 after shooting 68 and 63 the first two days. Yang finished with a 65 after going 68 and 64.
“I was a little weary with right-to-left wind,” Park said. “I think a little bit of weariness got to me, but overall, it’s OK.”
Defending champion Lexi Thompson was five shots back after completing the final nine of the second round in 2 under 34 and shooting 64 in the afternoon.
She made up ground despite being assessed a one-stroke penalty after hitting her tee shot on No. 10 into the sixth fairway and lifting the ball without authority. Rules officials had implemented the preferred lies rule because more than an inch of rain had doused the course.
Thompson still made her par on the hole though it temporarily broke her momentum after making six birdies on the front nine in her first appearance since taking a monthlong break to recover from physical and mental exhaustion.
“Twenty-seven holes, I definitely had a few tired swings toward the end,” said Thompson, who finished each of the first two rounds with 68s. “But overall, a lot of positives. I hit it great. I made some really good putts.”
Three players – Nasa Hataoka of Japan, Jin Young Ko of South Korea and Mina Harigae – were tied at 15 under. Ko started the third round with a share of the lead but had three bogeys in a round of 70.
Now, all Salas has to do is cash in one more time.
“I’ve been knocking on the door quite a bit in the last four years, haven’t been able to get it done,” Salas said. “I’ve got good players behind me, I’ve just got to play my game.”