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    To Win the British Open, You Have to Go Through the Road Hole

    Some say the 17th hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews is the hardest in the world. Many championship dreams have died there.Forty-four summers ago, Tommy Nakajima of Japan was in the hunt during the third round of the 1978 British Open. On the Old Course at St. Andrews — where the tournament will be staged once again this week — Nakajima knocked his second shot onto the putting surface at No. 17, a par 4 known as the Road Hole. Mission accomplished.Nakajima would now likely make a par, or bogey at the worst, on one of the most intimidating holes in professional golf.His putt, however, made its way down the wrong slope, taking an unfortunate left turn into a pot bunker with remarkably high side walls. But his troubles were just beginning. From there, Nakajima needed four shots to get the ball onto the green. He ended up recording a nine on the hole, ruining any real hopes of winning the claret jug. He would finish the tournament in a tie for 17th.Tommy Nakajima’s putt found its way into the pot bunker beside the Road Hole during the 1978 British Open, ruining any real hopes of winning the competition.Peter Dazeley/Getty ImagesNakajima’s playing partner in that third round was Tom Weiskopf, who had won the 1973 British Open.Before Nakajima hit his first putt, Weiskopf said to his caddie, “He better be careful,” Weiskopf recalled.Nakajima’s collapse, as crushing as it was, has hardly been the only calamity on the Road Hole, so named because it’s next to a road.“There are a lot of things that can go wrong on this hole,” said Nick Price, who won the British Open in 1994. “It’s like walking through a minefield.”In 1984, Tom Watson found the road. He was aiming to win the tournament for the third consecutive time. Such a victory would be his sixth title in the Open; he would tie the record held by the British golfer Harry Vardon. However, Watson’s dream would soon be history.In 1995, Italy’s Costantino Rocca, in a four-hole playoff against John Daly, needed three shots to get out of the bunker. That was it for him.The first challenge for players at No. 17 — which was lengthened in 2010 to 495 yards from 455 — is to navigate a treacherous blind tee shot, meaning players can’t see the landing area on the fairway because the view is blocked by a green shed on the right.The preferred landing spot is on the right side of the fairway, but if the ball veers too far right, it might end up out of bounds. Players will typically set their target, depending on the wind, for one of the letters on a sign on the shed that reads: Old Course Hotel. Sometimes, balls hit the hotel itself.No wonder a lot of golfers play it safe by aiming left, but that approach isn’t foolproof, either.“There are a lot of things that can go wrong on this hole,” Nick Price, the winner of the 1994 British Open, said of the 17th hole. “It’s like walking through a minefield.”Phil Sheldon/Popperfoto, via Getty ImagesIf you go into the rough on the left, “you’ve got a terrible angle to the pin and a terrible angle to the front edge of the green,” said David Graham, a two-time major champion.Wherever that first shot ends up, the next shot is just as daunting.“The last thing you want to do is go on the road,” Tony Jacklin, who won the 1969 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in England. “The best you can expect to do with a second shot is go for the front part of the green. I don’t care how in command of your game you are. You can’t guarantee hitting that green in two.”As Tom Watson knows too well.During the 1984 Open, Watson was tied with Seve Ballesteros when he sent his drive at 17 to the right. He hit it far enough to clear the wall of the hotel, but the ball wound up on a steep slope.“The shot you want to play to that green is a low-running shot,” Watson said. “You can’t do that from a severe upslope.”He flew his two-iron approach about 30 yards to the right, the ball coming to a rest on the road close to a stone wall. With an abbreviated backswing, Watson managed to get the ball to within 30 feet of the flagstick. He could still save par.Before he putted, however, Watson recalled, “All of a sudden, I hear this roar at the 18th hole. I look up and there’s Seve with his fist up in the air. I said, ‘Uh-oh, I’ve got to make this putt and birdie the last hole.’” When he didn’t make the putt, Watson knew it was over. He lost by two shots and never won another claret jug.Watson, who played in the Open at St. Andrews on eight occasions, strongly advises against challenging the back or middle part of the green.“If you really play it smart,” he explained, “you never try to hit it more than 20 or 30 feet onto the surface of the green. Try to two-putt for your par and get out of there.”Or maybe not go for the green at all.In the 1990 Open, which he won, Nick Faldo laid up short of the putting surface on 17 in three of the four days, including the final round. Leading by five shots and 215 yards away, he saw no reason to take any chances. Faldo walked away from the hole with a bogey. Earlier in that same round, Peter Jacobsen had needed three strokes to move the ball 30 yards from the rough at No. 17, recording an eight.In 1984, Ballesteros seemed to approach the hole as if it were a par 5, hoping to make no worse than a bogey. Price, the 1994 British Open winner, expressed a similar sentiment.“If it was really into the wind, I’d lay up with a four or three iron and then chip up,” Price said. “If I made 4, I made 4. I wasn’t going to make six, seven or eight, that’s for sure.”Players who strive to avoid the road over the green must also be wary of the pot bunker to the hole’s left.Andrew Milligan/PA Wire, via Associated PressThat the hole comes so late in the round, with a championship possibly at stake, makes the challenge even more formidable. In 2015, the last time the Open was held at St. Andrews, the Road Hole ranked as the most difficult hole, with the players averaging 4.655 strokes.Over the course of the entire tournament, there were only nine birdies on 17, while there were 217 bogeys and 32 double bogeys there.“It’s nearly impossible to make a birdie even once in four days,” Graham, the two-time major champion, said. “If you do, it’s a long putt.”Bernard Darwin, the English golf writer and accomplished amateur, perhaps put in best in describing the elusive green on the Road Hole. He wrote that it “lies between a greedy little bunker on one side and a brutally hard road on the other. Many like it, most respect it, and all fear it.” More

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    Gary Player Fears for the Old Course (and Probably Your Breakfast Order)

    NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — Surely, Gary Player could have long ago gotten away from being one of golf’s globe-trotting mascots.He is 86 now, with 160 victories — including nine major championships — and millions of dollars to his name. But Player, who secured the career Grand Slam when he was 29, has never seemed able to stop, never eager to surrender to age or outrage or the siren songs of privacy or retirement.So there he was one spring day, clad, as ever, almost entirely in black, cheerfully bobbing around Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia as he opined on whatever and signed autographs and played the game that made a young man from South Africa mightily famous.But one of his preferred stretches of any year will come with this week’s British Open, which he played a record 46 consecutive times. The 150th edition of the Open will begin Thursday on the Old Course at St. Andrews, which Player first visited in 1955 when he failed to qualify for the tournament.In an interview in May at Aronimink, where he won the 1962 P.G.A. Championship and still plays when he is in the area to visit his daughter, Player reflected on the state of the Open and the sport, and, of course, the physical regimen that has kept him on courses well into his ninth decade.This interview has been edited for length and clarity.You’ve called the British Open your favorite major. Why?The British Open is the greatest championship in the world. I think the U.S. Open is second, the P.G.A. is third and the Masters fourth.So, why?That’s where it all started, and this is the game that we all love and adore and what it’s done for us in our lives, irrespective of whether you’re a professional or amateur.But the Open Championship is the challenge of the mind like no other tournament. Remember there, because of the field, you tee off sometimes at 6:30 in the morning and the last starting time is 4 o’clock.So you play in the morning and you play in perfect weather and you shoot an average round of 72. In the afternoon, the wind comes up and a little bit of rain and you shoot 74 and it’s your highlight of the year you’ve played so well. So what it does is test you more — far more — than any other tournament at not feeling sorry for yourself, at getting in there and loving adversity and realizing if I can overcome this, I really am the champion of the world.I’ll never forget going to St. Andrews my first year and thinking, “What a crap golf course.” But it was immaturity, my lack of knowledge of the game.Player, center, after winning the British Open at age 23. He won nine major championships.Bettmann / ContributorYou slept on the dunes during your first St. Andrews trip, right?I leave South Africa with 200 pounds in my pocket. That’s my total asset in the world, and now I’ve got to play the Tour and if I don’t play well, go back home — not like today when you’ve got a sponsor and the guys are making millions and millions.I arrive at St. Andrews. I don’t have a booking for a hotel. So I go to these hotels — 80 pounds, 90 pounds, 100 pounds. I said, I’ll sleep on the beach. It was a great evening, right where they did “Chariots of Fire.” I went and lay there on the beach with my waterproofs on. I wake up the next day and I find a room for 10 shillings and sixpence, and that’s where I slept.It was right opposite the 18th green. Now I get on the first tee, and I’m very nervous and the starter says, “Play away, laddie.”Ray Charles can’t miss that fairway, it’s so wide, OK? So I get up, hook the ball, it’s going out of bounds, it hits the stake, comes back.As I’m walking away, he says, “What’s your name?” I said, “My name is Gary Player, sir.” He says, “What is your handicap?” I said, “No, I’m a pro.” He says, “You’re a pro? Laddie, you must be a hell of a chipper and putter.”Time goes by, I come back and I’m now the youngest man to win the Open. And he sees me, “It’s a bloody miracle! Actually, laddie, it’s a mirage. I can’t believe it’s you. You won the Open!”You never finished better than seventh in an Open at St. Andrews. To your mind, what makes St. Andrews as challenging as it is?The wind or the rain or whatever the conditions are, and staying out of the bunkers, which are fatal. When you get in those bunkers, you just get out. You don’t take a 4-iron and knock it out like you can in South Africa or America.And then you’ve got the greens, which are so big that they’re double greens.My goodness me, is it hard to judge second shots.Player during the British Open at St. Andrews in Scotland on July 20, 2000. His best finish at a British Open at St. Andrews was seventh.photo by Paul Severn/Getty ImagesGiven how long people are hitting, do you think the Old Course is irrelevant or headed toward irrelevancy?It is. That’s the tragedy, but that’s not the fault of the golf course; that’s the fault of our leaders. Our leaders have allowed the ball to go too far.You’ve got to have some vision in life. In 30 to 40 years, they’re going to hit the ball 500 yards. You know, on the second hole at Augusta, they’re hitting an 8-iron to the green. Jack Nicklaus, if you gave him this equipment and let him tee off in his prime, he’d hit it as far or farther as most guys. The best he ever did was 5-iron.So, it’s making a mockery of it.Now, can you afford to do what Augusta does? Keep going backward and buying land? No. And is it necessary? No, and it’s a waste of money. Young people should be getting the money to improve golf and conditions and giving African Americans a chance in the inner cities. They should be teaching kids about getting an opportunity to play golf.But no, that money’s being wasted because you now have the tees longer, it’s more irrigation, it’s more fertilization, it’s more machinery, it’s more labor.It sounds like it infuriates you.It burns. It destroys me. A guy like Bryson DeChambeau, he could drive the first green. He’ll definitely drive the third. He will drive seven to eight greens in the tournament.Seven? On the most famous golf course on the planet? All I pray is that during the Open they have wind and a little bit of rain. Otherwise, they’re going to annihilate the golf course.So if the course is becoming a mockery, should the R&A keep holding Opens at St. Andrews every so often?Yes, because you don’t want to lose something that is so famous — the greatest championship in the world — by stupidity.National apartheid demonstrations outside Manly Golf Club, Nov. 6, 1971.Photo by Edward Beresford Golding/Fairfax Media via Getty ImagesYou faced protests in the 1960s over your views on apartheid, which you later distanced yourself from.When you lived in apartheid like I did — you have no idea, young people have no idea. It was like living in Germany. If you said something when I was a young man about the government, you could get what they called a 90-day policy of jail.You were scared.But people did protest.In 1969, I was playing at the P.G.A. at Dayton, Ohio, and they threw telephone books at the top of my backswing, they threw ice in my eyes, they threw balls between my legs, they screamed on my backswing. They were all doing it to me to get at the South African government because I was the world champion.Do you think Phil Mickelson will face the same kind of blowback for embracing Saudi Arabia’s moves in golf?He could never face it to the degree that I had. I had it most places in the world, and had I not had all that, I could have won more majors.At Augusta this year, you go into the press facility after we opened the golf course. They asked a question about Phil Mickelson. Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus said nothing. But, no, I’m not going to be like that. Silence in the face of evil is evil.So there’s now Phil Mickelson, the greatest P.R. that golf ever had. He’s been ostracized because he said something in confidence to a man who’s doing a book. Incorrectly, he said something, which we all do.We all deserve a second strike. We say in our prayers, “Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive them.” Are we adhering to that? No!With that public attitude in mind, do you think there is a path for public redemption for Mickelson?The American nation is a nation, more so than any other nation, that forgives. They will cheer him to the hilt, a guarantee. If he doesn’t, I’ll be shocked because he deserves it.Rory McIlroy didn’t get to play at St. Andrews in 2015 because of an injury. Is this his time?Rory McIlroy is the most talented golfer in the world today. Whether you use the talent and do it effectively, that’s up to him. To the standard of his ability, he has not delivered. Now, he’s won four majors, but with his ability, he should have won six by now. He should be doing way better.But Ben Hogan — the best player to ever play the game — only won his first major championship at 34, so Rory is in his infancy. But everyone, as we live in the world now, wants instant delivery, and it doesn’t happen like that in life.I’m a big Rory fan as far as his future is concerned. I don’t know if he’s nervous. I can only pass comment on the golf course.He’s so strong, and he’s so fit, and he’s a nice man.Collin Morikawa obviously had a tremendous Open last year. Do you see him as one of the dominant faces of the game years from now?Throughout history, you’ve always had someone who dominated. Ben Hogan was the best that ever played. Then came Jack Nicklaus. Prior to that, it was Bobby Jones. Then came Tiger Woods.I can’t tell you who the best player in the world is now. Nobody is warranting to say he is the best player in the world; he can say he’s one of the best players.Player in the locker room of Aronimink Golf Course in May.Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York TimesWhy do you still play? Is it for fun? For physical experience? To compete with yourself?I love people, and I learn something from everyone I play with.I had been trying for years to beat my age by 18 shots. I’ve done 17 shots six times. One time, I had it in my hand — there was no way I could not do it — and I quite honestly choked. It was the first time I really had adrenaline on a golf course since winning a British Open or the Masters.But I’m playing with Donald Trump with friends of mine, and I shoot 19 under my age. I go out the next day and shoot 18 under my age, and yet, for years, I’ve been trying to achieve it. [Asked whether Player had joined Trump for a round and scored a 67, a spokesman for Trump, Taylor Budowich, replied: “He did, and President Trump was equally impressed.”]My dream is to repay America for what it’s done for me.I want people, when I die, to say, “Gary Player, crikey, man, did he teach me to look after my body.” It’s a holy temple. People in America don’t worry about health. Two percent, maybe — I’m being kind — under-eat, exercise, laugh and have unmeasured love in their hearts.And yet what’s the most important thing in your life? Your health. People are just eating themselves into the grave. I had no breakfast today.Player taking the ceremonial tee shots at the Masters Tournament on Nov, 12, 2020.Doug Mills/The New York TimesWhat did you have today?I had a hamburger with no bun. I don’t eat the bun. The bun is crap. You might as well eat green grass.I don’t eat bacon. I don’t drink milk. I don’t eat ice cream. I love ice cream, I love bacon, but I took an oath to God I would never have it because if I want to live a long time, it takes effort, it takes work, it takes dedication.Given all of that, what did you shoot today?74. If I have a bad day, it’s 75.I’ve beaten my age 2,400 times, plus, in a row.Do you fear the day you won’t be able to do that, or do you think that day will never come?Age takes care of everything. If you’re reasonably well read and intelligent, you’ve got to accept those things.What goes through your head when you visit St. Andrews now?Gratitude.My mind’s going to go back to 1955. Sixty-seven years! A lot of people don’t live to 67. More

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    Will Zalatoris Will Never Be Satisfied With Second Place

    Zalatoris came close to sending the U.S. Open to a playoff on Sunday, only to finish disappointed once again. “We’re talking inches,” he says.BROOKLINE, Mass. — As his putt approached the hole on the 18th green on Sunday evening, Will Zalatoris thought he was headed to a thrilling playoff that would determine the U.S. Open champion. All the ball had to do was drop and Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick would settle things in a two-hole playoff.“With about six feet to go, I thought I had it,” Zalatoris said. He had checked his phone earlier and seen what Paul Azinger, the NBC golf analyst and former PGA Tour pro, had been saying. “That everyone missed that putt high,” Zalatoris added.He continued, “‘I was the closest one all day. I was, like, ‘thanks for the consolation prize.’”Zalatoris is becoming painfully familiar with consolation prizes. Last month, he lost the P.G.A. Championship to Justin Thomas in a playoff at Southern Hills in Tulsa. He finished second to Hideki Matsuyama in the 2021 Masters, just seven months removed from the Korn Ferry Tour. And now, another second place finish in another major.“It stings obviously to have three runners-up so far in my career in majors,” he said. “We’re obviously doing the right things. I’d pay a lot of money for about an inch and a half, and I’d probably be a three-time major champion at this point. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”Zalatoris, right, congratulating Matt Fitzpatrick on the 18th green on Sunday.Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesZalatoris can look to the great Ben Hogan for historical comparison. Hogan was repeatedly labeled a bridesmaid for his inability to win a major throughout the early and mid 1940s. He lost a playoff to Byron Nelson at the 1942 Masters after leading by three shots. He lost a chance at a playoff in the 1946 Masters when he three-putted from 12 feet, missing a 30-inch putt.“It just wasn’t my time to win,” Hogan told The New York Times. “However, there’s another year coming.” Two months later, at the U.S. Open outside Cleveland, he again three-putted on the 72nd hole, missing another short putt and falling out of a playoff won by Lloyd Mangrum. But later that year, he won the P.G.A. Championship, the first of his nine majors.The difference is that unlike Hogan, who had established himself as one of the game’s premier players by consistently winning other tournaments, Zalatoris is still looking for his first victory on the PGA Tour. The consensus is that Zalatoris’s putting — particularly the short putt — is his Achilles’ heel. Though he putted relatively well at the Country Club — until he missed that birdie on the last hole in the final round — he entered the tournament ranked 160th on the tour in putting.Asked what he thought when he saw Zalatoris line up a putt, Collin Morikawa said, “I pray for him. I mean, look, I’m not going to beat around the bush. I’ve said it since college, anything outside of that 8- to 10-foot zone, I mean, it’s as smooth as anyone else’s stroke.”And inside of 10 feet?“We’ve seen some squirrelly putts,” Morikawa said. “Not that I’m the best putter and I have had that little squirreliness too, but I think we all kind of get on our toes when we see it.”Zalatoris drawing a crowd on the 18th fairway in the final round of the U.S. Open.Amanda Sabga/EPA, via ShutterstockZalatoris had no trouble winning before he arrived on the PGA Tour. He won the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur championship. At Wake Forest, he was an All-American and ACC Player of the Year. He twice won the Trans-Mississippi Amateur championship. He was on the victorious 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team, which also featured Scottie Scheffler, who tied with Zalatoris for second place on Sunday, and Morikawa, who finished tied for fifth.In addition to the three career second-place finishes at the majors, Zalatoris this year has finished second to Luke List in a playoff at the Farmers Insurance Open. He tied for sixth at the Masters, fourth at the Zurich Classic and fifth at the Memorial Tournament.His world ranking has climbed to 12th and he is ranked 8th in the FedEx Cup standings. No golfer ranked that high or higher has done so without at least one victory.Sunday’s result at the Country Club was Zalatoris’s seventh top-10 finish in 12 events this year. He has finished in the top 10 in six of the eight majors in which he has played. It is an impressive record — minus a glaring hole, or three.“It’s just little things,” said Zalatoris, who turns 26 in August. “It’s not the same thing at every single one. We’re talking inches. It’s not like I finished runner-up by four or five a few times. It’s been one for all three. So I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve got to keep knocking on the door because eventually — like I said earlier, the comfort level is there.”After Zalatoris had dissected his round and his ongoing battle to finally crack the winner’s circle, he received a parting gift from the United States Golf Association: a silver medal for coming in second. More

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    Why You Can’t Watch LIV Golf on American Television

    The human rights record of its funder, Saudi Arabia, may be the least of the new tour’s challenges when it comes to getting on American television.For the Saudi-backed upstart LIV Golf tour, the strategy for luring top golfers like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson away from the prestige and stability of the PGA Tour was simple: Offer cash, and lots of it.The arrival of the new tour and the defection of PGA Tour stars were major disruptions in what has been a stable and even staid sport. But when the first LIV event was finally held outside London last weekend after months of anticipation, it was not shown on television in the United States. And it’s unlikely that any American network will be broadcasting LIV events anytime soon.The reason boils down to this: The networks are happy airing the PGA Tour.“We are positioned as the home of golf in this country,” said Pete Bevacqua, the chairman of the NBC Sports, which shows by far the most golf in the United States. “We are not only satisfied where we are, but unbelievably pleased where we are.”Some golfers couldn’t resist the pull of the new tour, whose events are shorter than the PGA Tour’s (three days instead of four) and offer huge payouts, with individual winners receiving $4 million and the members of winning teams sharing $3 million, far more than most PGA Tour events. Even last-place finishers get $120,000; PGA Tour players who don’t make the cut after two rounds get nothing.Charl Schwartzel of South Africa won $4 million for winning the inaugural LIV Golf tournament. He pocketed another $750,000 because his team won the team competition.Alastair Grant/Associated PressBut the LIV tour got nowhere with those who might have aired its events in the United States. Representatives for LIV Golf spoke with most American broadcasters, but did not have substantive discussions about a media rights agreement with any of them, according to people familiar with those discussions. LIV broached the idea of buying time to show the London tournament on Fox — an inversion of the normal business relationship, where the media company pays the sports organization to show its event — but discussions did not go far.In the end, the London tournament was not on American broadcast TV or popular sports streaming platforms such as Peacock and ESPN+. Instead, golf fans could watch it on the streaming service DAZN, YouTube, Facebook or LIV Golf’s website, without commercials.Limited viewership numbers suggest not many of them did. The final round of the London event attracted an average of 68,761 viewers on YouTube and fewer than 5,000 on Facebook, according to Apex Marketing, a sports and entertainment analytics firm. On the same weekend, 812,000 viewers watched the final round of the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open on Golf Channel, and 2.78 million watched when coverage switched over to CBS.The absence of a media rights agreement would normally threaten the survival of a new sports league. But LIV Golf is not a commercial entity with a profit imperative. It is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and part of a larger effort by the kingdom to improve its image around the world. Players who have joined the LIV tour have been accused of helping to “sportswash” Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses, including the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.LIV did not respond to a request for comment.But NBC and other broadcast networks have a long list of reasons other than reputational damage to steer clear of the new venture.LIV’s main barrier to entry in the United States is that most major media companies are deeply invested in the success of its competitor, the PGA Tour. NBC, CBS and ESPN are collectively in the first year of a nine-year, $6 billion-plus agreement to show the PGA Tour in the United States, while Warner Bros. Discovery (which owns TNT and TBS) is paying the PGA Tour $2 billion to show the tour worldwide.The media companies are not contractually restricted from showing LIV, according to the people familiar with the deals, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private agreements. But they believe that doing so would draw attention away from the tour on which they are spending billions.Fox, which has a history of risk-taking in sports (it is currently investing in spring football), might seem like a good candidate to team up with LIV, but Fox does not televise any golf, and that is by design. The network had the rights to broadcast the U.S. Open through 2026, but paid money to give up those rights to NBC.Even if networks wanted to take a chance on LIV Golf, the logistical challenges would be significant. Golf monopolizes entire weekends throughout the year and is more expensive to produce than arena- and stadium-based sports. (Golf presents a particularly difficult hurdle for Fox, which rarely puts sports on its streaming service, Tubi, meaning it is difficult to show golf when schedules collide.)Phil Mickelson at the LIV Golf tournament near London. The winner of 45 PGA Tour events, he was suspended by the PGA Tour after announcing he would play on the LIV tour.Paul Childs/ReutersLIV Golf also did not have any stars on board until recently, and it is not clear whether it will attract enough top golfers to make its events attractive to fans. Questions about the tour’s backing have been uncomfortable for those who have joined.“I would ask any player who has left or any player who would ever consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?’” Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, said in a televised interview Sunday.Players who have signed contracts with LIV have been booted from the PGA Tour, though that could soon become the subject of litigation. Players have also been dropped by sponsors, either because of the association with Saudi Arabia or because companies don’t want to support golfers competing on a tour few are watching.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    U.S.G.A. Could Bar LIV Golf Players From Future U.S. Opens

    “I’m struggling with how this is good for the game,” Mike Whan said of the Saudi-backed rival series that has lured aging stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with big paydays.BROOKLINE, Mass. — Since last week, when multiple top golfers exposed a schism in the men’s professional game by spurning the established PGA Tour to join the upstart, Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit, the sport has been waiting for its power brokers to weigh in.The biggest prizes in golf, the events that shape legacies, generate top sponsorship dollars and are marked on every player’s calendar, are the major championships: the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the P.G.A. Championship. But none of those four events are governed by a professional tour, be it old or new. They are overseen by four distinct entities sometimes described as the four families of golf (insert organized crime joke here).These organizations are now the linchpins in the battle over the future of men’s pro golf. When the PGA Tour retaliated last week by suspending 17 players who had aligned with LIV Golf, the looming question was whether the major championships’ chieftains from Augusta National Golf Club (the Masters), the United States Golf Association (the U.S. Open), the R&A (the British Open) and the PGA of America (the P.G.A. Championship) would choose a side. Since they have long been allied with the recognized tours in the United States and Europe, would they snub the alternative LIV Golf Invitational series and exclude its players from their events?Phil Mickelson plays a shot from a bunker on the 16th hole during a practice round at the Country Club.Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesOn Wednesday, there was a partial answer and it could not have comforted renowned players like Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, who have insisted they can still play the major tournaments while accepting the hundreds of millions of dollars being doled out by LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the Private Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.While all LIV Golf-affiliated players who had already qualified for this week’s U.S. Open at the Country Club outside Boston have been welcomed, Mike Whan, the U.S.G.A. chief executive, said on Wednesday that his organization would consider ways that could make it more difficult for LIV Golf players to compete in the event in the future.Whan was asked if he could see a situation in which the LIV Golf players would find it “harder and harder” to get into the U.S. Open.“Yes,” he answered.Asked to elaborate, Whan said: “Could I foresee a day? Yeah, I could foresee a day.”Whan cautioned that the U.S.G.A. would not act rashly but would unquestionably “re-evaluate” its qualifying criteria.“The question was, could you envision a day where it would be harder for some folks doing different things to get into a U.S. Open?” he said. “I could.”There were other statements from Whan that did not sound like endorsements of the LIV Golf Invitational series, which held its inaugural tournament last weekend outside London and still lacks the support of the majority of top, and rank-and-file, PGA Tour players. But the breakaway circuit has surprisingly lured some leading players, most of whom had professed their loyalty to the United States-based PGA Tour just weeks, or days, earlier.“I’m saddened by what’s happening in the professional game,” Whan said. He continued: “I’ve heard that this is good for the game. At least from my outside view right now, it looks like it’s good for a few folks playing the game, but I’m struggling with how this is good for the game.”Whan, who was the longtime commissioner of the L.P.G.A. until he took over the U.S.G.A. last summer, also emphasized that it was essential for each of golf’s leaders to work cohesively when assessing what role LIV Golf would play.“We have to see what this becomes — if this is an exhibition or tour?” he said. “I’ve said this many times, I’ve seen a lot of things get started in the game, maybe nothing with this amount of noise or this amount of funding behind it, but I’ve also seen a lot of those things not be with us a couple years later.“One event doesn’t change the way I think about the future of the sport.”The PGA Tour suspensions “got our attention,” said Mike Whan, the U.S.G.A. chief executive, at a news conference.Rob Carr/Getty ImagesAnd significantly, when Whan was asked if suspensions imposed by the PGA Tour would get his attention when the U.S.G.A. was reassessing its criteria for future U.S. Opens, Whan swiftly replied: “They already did. It got our attention for this championship.”Whan’s comments come a month after Seth Waugh, the P.G.A. of America chief executive, stood firmly behind the PGA Tour, calling it a part of what he referred to as golf’s ecosystem.“Our bylaws do say that you have to be a recognized member of a recognized tour in order to be a PGA member somewhere, and therefore eligible to play,” Waugh said, speaking of the P.G.A. Championship.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    The Roar of the Crowd Returns

    AUGUSTA, Ga. — The roars were absent or diminished for two Masters Tournaments, so many spectators kept away because of the pandemic.But Augusta National Golf Club’s gates have swung open once again for the wealthy masses to convene along the course. For all that has changed just about everywhere else, not so much has at Augusta. Of course it hasn’t: This is tradition-bound Augusta, for better or for worse.And so the Masters is, as ever, a sporting event with the (sometimes vanishing) sensibilities of a garden party, the rarefied attendance of an elite fraternity gathering and a golf spectacle equaled by few places.Pairing sheets, free to anyone who perhaps paid thousands of dollars for a general admission pass, rustle. Ice cubes clink in plastic cups, and sandwich wrappers crinkle. Balls catapult off driver heads, setting up shots and, in the meantime, anodyne commentaries to no one in particular. There are nervous laughs, urgent shouts and communal ducking and shoulder-clenching when a shot goes astray and lands on the crossway of an entirely different hole.There are no cellphones, no remote doorbell chimes, no one squawking on a conference call that you, too, have wound up joining. But there is, at last, noise.“They just live and die with your success or failure,” Tommy Aaron, the 1973 Masters winner, said of the spectators in 2020.And they and their exclamations are back. A cheer someplace prompts heads to snap around, the volume and direction suggesting what might have made one man’s day and ruined another’s.The roars have been building all week. Headed into the final day, surely the safest bet at Augusta is that Sunday will elicit the greatest ones of all.Spectators leaving the golf course after the horns sounded to alert that lightning was in the area and play had been suspended during practice rounds on Wednesday.Cellphones are not allowed on the course, but the Masters provides free phones for patrons away from the action.Patrons posed outside the clubhouse dining area.The concession area during a practice round. While some prices have gone up slightly this year, it is stilll pretty cheap to eat and drink at Augusta National.Fans following a shot hit on the the 13th fairway in the second round.A young boy watching the golfers on the practice green.The crowd watching Bryson DeChambeau hitting from the tee on the third hole during the first round. More

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    At the Masters, Tiger Woods Will Take Some Ice With That

    In Woods’s improbable quest for a sixth green jacket, his recuperation regimen may be more important than any read of any green.AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods stood in the glorious sunlight of a Georgia spring one afternoon this past week, a lingering dose of warmth before the frigid, hellish hours ahead.“Lots of treatments, lots of ice, lots of ice baths, just basically freezing myself to death,” Woods said of his plans before his next tee shot at Augusta National Golf Club. “That’s just part of the deal.”Rare is the athlete whose medical history has been more scrutinized and documented — by doctors, as well as by plenty of armchair experts in tournament galleries, living rooms and the news media — over the decades. But with Woods pursuing his sixth Masters Tournament title not even 14 months after a car wreck made a leg amputation a possibility, the 46-year-old golfer’s recuperation regimen may be more important than any read of any green.“If he can walk around here in 72 holes, he’ll contend,” said Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters winner who practiced with Woods before the tournament opened on Thursday. “He’s too good. He’s too good.”Couples was perhaps overly optimistic when he spoke on Monday. Woods shot a spectacular 71 on Thursday and a 74 on Friday to put his score at one over par headed into the weekend. Taken together, the rounds, up and down as they were, were remarkable showings of the ferocity and grit that helped Woods to dominate his sport for years. But those pre-cut outings were expected to be the least taxing.Woods spoke throughout the week about how he had little concern for his golfing skill, even as he openly worried about the wear and tear on a body that had its easiest days long ago.So he and his team must spend the hours between rounds trying to achieve dueling ambitions: reducing the swelling that comes with traipsing around the topographical nightmare that is Augusta, and keeping Woods’s surgically rebuilt limb “mobile and warmed up, activated and explosive for the next day,” as he put it.“Most sports, if you’re not feeling very good, you got a teammate to pass it off to, and they can kind of shoulder the load, or in football, one day a week,” Woods said. “Here we’ve got four straight days, and there’s no one that’s going to shoulder the load besides me. I’ve got to figure out a way to do it.”Woods stretches his injured right leg as he waits to tee off on the 8th hole.Doug Mills/The New York TimesAccording to Woods, he has not taken a day off from his rehabilitation efforts since he emerged from the three months in bed that followed his one-car wreck near Los Angeles in February 2021. The crash left him with open fractures of the tibia and the fibula in his right leg, and it led surgeons to add rods, plates and screws to his leg.The subsequent recovery has required trade-offs and gambles and, in something that is not new for Woods, unshakable confidence in his own talents, thrown off as they might be.Some changes appear somewhat easier to accept than others, like new shoes to help with stability on the course. But experts have also developed protocols for before and after rounds — “after I go ahead and break it out there, they go ahead and repair it at night,” Woods said on Friday — that have dramatically expanded the timeline that comes with playing.Those approaches, which may stretch for hours, have left Woods with less time for, say, hitting a thousand balls a day and refining, again, the nuances of his game.“It gets agonizing and teasing because of simple things that I would normally just go do that would take now a couple hours here and a couple hours there to prep and then wind down,” he said. “So, activity time, to do what I want to do, it adds more time on both sides of it.”The goal, he has said, was to build up the stamina that powered him and every other winner at Augusta, to give enough relief to make competitive golf more of a possibility than a pipe dream.But the strategies can only dull, not extinguish, the pain, which Woods said is present “each and every day.”He insists, though, that pain is not a problem. By his account, he did not have any unexpected physical setbacks in his first days back at Augusta.The question for Woods — and for everyone else left standing in the field at Augusta — is how long a leg already refashioned can hold up under such protracted duress. The course, lengthened this year, now stands at 7,510 yards, the longest in the history of the tournament, which was first played in 1934. Woods’s predictions have only gone so far.“I expected to be sore and not feel my best, for sure,” Woods said on Friday. “It’s the combination. I can walk this golf course — I can put on tennis shoes and go for a walk, that’s not a problem. But going ballistically at shots and hitting shot shapes off of uneven lies, that puts a whole new challenge to it.”He soon trudged off, presumably for another night of ice. More

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    With Son as Caddie, Stewart Cink Gets a Hole in One

    Cink sank the 24th hole in one on No. 16 in Masters history. He would have rather made the cut.AUGUSTA, Ga. — Stewart Cink knew the shot had a chance, the way so many shots seem to on No. 16 at Augusta National Golf Club. So did his youngest son, Reagan, who was his caddie for the Masters Tournament.The ball thunked onto the green, commencing a leisurely, 11-second roll before it fell into the cup for Cink’s first hole in one in 20 appearances at the Masters. Cink, who had wielded an 8-iron, raised his arms and embraced his son. A double high-five followed.“Happy birthday,” Stewart Cink told his son, who turned 25 on Friday, Reagan Cink recalled in an interview later. “It’s a pretty good present.”The marquee shot hardly redeemed Stewart Cink’s frustrating week at Augusta, where he missed the cut after scoring a 76 on Thursday and one shot better on Friday, leaving him at seven over par. But the shot was a bit of a balm.The setting was familiar for hole in one aficionados: With Cink’s shot, No. 16 has now been the site of 24 such successes over the history of the tournament, which was first played in 1934. No Augusta hole has surrendered more.Known as Redbud, the par-3 hole runs just 170 yards, making it the second-shortest at Augusta. Players strike the ball over the water to a green where three bunkers lurk nearby.“The way I do things with my approach shot, I don’t just try to hit a number — I try to hit a zone of numbers, usually like seven to 10 yards of space,” Cink, whose best finish at the Masters was a tie for third in 2008, said after his round. “On that one, I knew to push it a little further back because that bank brings the ball not only left but also back toward the tee. So that extra couple yards is exactly where it landed, and it hit my spot. It was the exact right curve, perfect contact.”Like his father, Reagan Cink said he thought the shot could find the cup. With his father still hoping to make the cut after finding the water at No. 15, Reagan Cink tried to keep his ambitions in check as the ball made its way toward the pin.“When you think it’s going,” he said, “then it pretty much never does.”True enough. But that did not stop his British Open-winning father from expecting the ball to wind up in the cup.“Usually a lot of times anyway, you hear it was kind of a mis-hit or whatever,” Stewart Cink, 48, said. “This was not a mis-hit. This was exactly the way I would have drawn it up. It was like a dream shot.”And as he watched the ball travel, the spectators sitting close by became a giveaway about its trajectory on the green.“They knew it was in, and they all got up,” he said. “When they got up, I knew it wasn’t missing.”No. 16 has seen a burst of hole-in-one activity in recent years, with nine golfers now having aced it since 2016.“It’s very special,” Tommy Fleetwood said after he holed a tee shot on No. 16 last year. “Doing it at a major is great, doing it competitively is great, but at Augusta is probably just another edge.”But Cink, who had been playing exceptional golf recently, would have sacrificed the triumph for a chance to play on Saturday and Sunday.“I’d throw the hole in one ball right in the water if I could make the cut and compete for two more rounds, but I’m missing the cut,” he said. “That stings more than the hole in one. It doesn’t boost my spirits like missing the cut hurts my spirits. I absolutely loathe not playing here on the weekend, and it hurts.”The shot, though, did make for an easy birthday present for Reagan.He got to keep the ball. More