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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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members on Wednesday morning.

Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.

The first Australian to win The Open Championship, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by Tom Watson.

On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.

Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.


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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.