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    Other Sports Faced Congress’s Glare. Now Golf Will Get Its Turn.

    A Senate hearing on Tuesday is just one part of Washington’s scrutiny of the PGA Tour’s deal with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.Sports executives and players have sometimes defended themselves or patiently absorbed hours of fury. They have occasionally apologized or pleaded for help. They have shifted blame or used celebrity and childhood memory as a charm offensive. In other instances, they have lied or obfuscated or simply said little at all.PGA Tour leaders, who are expected to appear before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday to discuss their circuit’s surprise alliance with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, have a menu of time- and pressure-tested options for facing a sports-curious Congress. The tactics they turn to will likely do much to influence whether Tuesday’s proceeding is a blip that leads to a day’s worth of headlines or a debacle that triggers far greater scrutiny.“The PGA would be smart to understand that they’re not calling them in to play patty-cake,” said J.C. Watts, who played quarterback at Oklahoma before representing a district in the state in Congress and, from 1999 to 2003, serving as a member of the Republican leadership in the House.“The constituents back home, they understand sports and they understand 9/11,” Watts added, referring to longstanding accusations that Saudi government operatives played a role in the 2001 attacks. “This is sports with a much deeper twist than your typical hearing.”That Congress, which has a long history of quizzing, hectoring and looming when it comes to sports, would step into golf’s fray felt like a certainty after the tour and the Saudi wealth fund announced a framework agreement on June 6. So far, that activity has taken the form of two Senate inquiries, a House bill to revoke the tour’s tax-exempt status, demands for the Justice Department and the Treasury Department to consider intervening and Tuesday’s hearing at the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.The proceeding is the latest example of a congressional interest in sports that has led to a mixed record. Lawmakers and their investigators have unearthed information and sometimes provoked changes to the sports landscape, either through legislation or the grinding power of the congressional bully pulpit.“I think you’ve got to articulate your public policy purpose,” said Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who was instrumental in hearings nearly two decades ago about steroid use in baseball, which lawmakers depicted as a part of a national scourge. “That’s really what you’ve got to do. It can be a health thing, a tax equity thing, but you’ve got to articulate why Congress is involved, and it’s a high threshold.”Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the “central” role that sports play in American society makes them especially important for Congress to scrutinize.Pete Marovich for The New York TimesA sports hearing, Davis warned, was “high-risk, high-reward, particularly at a time when Congress is not seen as productive.”Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat who is the subcommittee’s chairman, said sports’ “central” role in American society makes them especially important for Congress to scrutinize. The proposed Saudi role in golf, he signaled, was too much for Congress to ignore.“There really is a national interest in this cherished, iconic American institution, which is about to be taken over by one of the world’s most repressive governments,” he said in an interview.On Tuesday, the subcommittee will not hear from any of the three witnesses it originally sought. Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, has been on medical leave for almost a month, though the tour said Friday that he would return next week. Yasir al-Rumayyan, the wealth fund’s governor, and Greg Norman, the commissioner of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf league, cited scheduling conflicts and declined to appear.“Suffice it to say, this hearing will certainly not be the last,” Blumenthal said. “We will have hearings after there is a final agreement, if appropriate, and there is a national interest in doing it.”After the tour announced Monahan’s planned return, a spokeswoman for Blumenthal, Maria McElwain, said that the subcommittee would be “following up with him regarding any remaining questions after Tuesday’s hearing.”Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, will not appear before the Senate Committee to testify.Rob Carr/Getty ImagesBut the PGA Tour is hoping to avoid testifying after Tuesday, when Ron Price, its chief operating officer, will appear. Although Price did not negotiate the agreement announced last month, the tour board member who initiated the talks, James J. Dunne III, is also expected to testify.Price and Dunne may also be asked about the weekend resignation of Randall Stephenson from the tour’s board after more than a decade. In his resignation letter, Stephenson, the former chief executive of AT&T, cited “serious concerns with how this framework agreement came to fruition without board oversight.” He added that the deal was not one that he could “in good conscience support,” especially because American intelligence officials concluded that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler authorized the 2018 murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.“If you are not really nervous and anxious to make sure you are prepared, then you are probably not prepared,” said Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who has repeatedly testified before Congress. “It will, for sure, be the worst night of sleep that any witness is going to have.”Golf has scarcely been a topic of inquiry in congressional hearing rooms. The sport’s leaders have often handled their business in Washington behind closed doors, relying on a fount of good will and gentility. The tour faced a significant threat in the 1990s, when the Federal Trade Commission examined antitrust issues in golf before its inquiry fizzled amid a pressure campaign from Capitol Hill.Public appearances on the Hill have been more cheery. Arnold Palmer, for instance, addressed a joint meeting of Congress to pay tribute to Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Jack Nicklaus spoke to a House committee about character education.Other titans of professional sports have had less pleasant interactions in Washington. Lawmakers have examined everything from college football’s Bowl Championship Series (“It looks like a rigged deal,” President Biden, who was then a senator, said.) to sexual abuse, domestic violence and the N.F.L.’s investigation into the Washington Commanders.But baseball has drawn much of the attention from Congress, like when senators called a 1958 hearing on antitrust exemptions. (“Stengelese Is Baffling to Senators,” read a subsequent headline in The New York Times, which reported that Yankees Manager Casey Stengel had lawmakers “confused but laughing.”)Neither Greg Norman, left, the commissioner of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf league, nor Yasir al-Rumayyan, the wealth fund’s governor, will appear at the hearing Tuesday.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated PressThe more recent proceedings about steroids in baseball featured a series of electrifying hearings, including one in 2005 when sluggers employed all manner of strategies during hostile questioning, and a 2008 spectacle that factored into the indictment of the celebrated pitcher Roger Clemens on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of Congress. He was ultimately acquitted.For all of the commotion and skepticism, though, the cumulative pressure from Congress helped prod baseball into sweeping changes.The Senate subcommittee’s goals for golf are, for now, unclear.“What’s a win on this, outside of getting your mug on the news?” asked Davis, who, after leaving Congress, represented the former Commanders owner Daniel Snyder during a House inquiry. “Is it undoing this deal? Is it exposing some Saudi plot to come in and take over American golf?”The wealth fund has denied that it is using sports to try to repair the kingdom’s reputation as a human rights abuser and has instead asserted that it wants to diversify the Saudi economy and empower the country to play a greater global role. But the Saudi element could still help the Senate inquiry to develop staying power because it gives Congress something to explore beyond a seemingly mundane sports issue.“Usually when you’re taking about sports, you don’t have to talk about 9/11 families, you don’t have to talk about the Pentagon, you don’t have to talk about Flight 93,” Watts said. “In this case, the one opposition that rallies everybody is the Saudi money.”Blumenthal suggested in the interview that he expects Saudi Arabia’s history — in the interview, he accused the kingdom of being “actively complicit in terrorist activities, including 9/11” — to be a central theme of Tuesday’s proceeding and the unfolding inquiry.The panel cannot unilaterally block the deal from advancing, but members are well aware that a crush of revelations or damaging testimony could stir outrage and, perhaps more consequentially, nudge other parts of the federal government that could do more to stop the alliance.Tygart, the antidoping chief, recalled a meeting with a senator before a 2017 hearing, with the lawmaker making plain that he understood exactly how the event could shape public debate, even if it did not yield legislation.“I know,” Tygart remembered the senator telling him, “how much good can come out of witnesses sitting under the bright lights and squirming in their seats.” More

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    Jack Nicklaus on the PGA Championship

    In 1950, when the P.G.A. Championship came to Scioto Golf Club, a 10-year-old boy wandered the grounds near Columbus, Ohio, searching for autographs. He had just started playing golf that year, and the likes of Sam Snead and Lloyd Mangrum were populating his home course.The boy was Jack Nicklaus.The spectacle, he recalled this spring, was among the earliest inspirations for a golfing career whose brilliance became abundantly clear 60 years ago. Nicklaus had won his first major title by then, but 1963 brought the 23-year-old player his first Masters Tournament victory and his inaugural triumph at a P.G.A. Championship.Nicklaus’s fifth and final P.G.A. Championship win came in 1980 at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y., where the tournament will be played beginning on Thursday.Over two interviews last month — one at Augusta National Golf Club and another by telephone — Nicklaus considered Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, the new LIV Golf league backed by Saudi Arabia, the future of the golf ball and whether anyone might win at Oak Hill by seven strokes, as he did in 1980.This interview has been edited for length and clarity.In 2013, when the P.G.A. Championship was last at Oak Hill, there were 21 players below par. There had only been four across the previous two P.G.A. Championships there, in 1980 and 2003. Had Oak Hill gotten too easy?I won there in 1980, and I think 280 was par. Oak Hill played pretty darn tough. I didn’t really play all that well that week, hit it all over the place, but every time I got it on the green, I holed it. I remember in the last round, I was in the lead and I was nervous because I wasn’t hitting it that great. I hit in the rough and got it on the green, so I shot 35 feet on the first hole. I said, “Well, here we go,” and started feeling a little more comfortable.With the P.G.A. Championship trophy after his seven-stroke victory in 1980 at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y.PGA of America, via Getty ImagesIf a designer is looking to challenge today’s players, how much of a challenge can he create by, as Andrew Green has now done at Oak Hill, rolling back the clock and looking back at the original Donald Ross designs?You can’t. The only thing you’re going to roll back and add to is distance. Oak Hill, I thought was very different: Most Ross golf courses are relatively small greens, and Oak Hill had very large greens. And then, of course, Fazio came in there and did three or four holes in the middle part of the front nine, as I recall, and they didn’t really look a lot like the other holes on the golf course that I saw in ’68. I like Oak Hill; I think it’s a great golf course. But you can tweak something right out of its tradition.What should happen to the golf ball?They say the golf ball has “only” increased 0.82 yards a year, which means in the last 10 years, it’s increased 8.2 yards. You’ve got to put a line in the sand somewhere.And I don’t think that the U.S. Golf Association and R&A have really rolled the ball back much. What they’ve done is say, “We really don’t want it to go any farther than this.” And that’s really only for the elite players. They left the golf ball alone for the average golfer. It was a really good move to try to put a line in the sand. I mean, not everybody’s got the ability to go buy the golf course next door, like you do at Augusta. You can’t just keep buying land and adding. We used to have in this country probably a couple of thousand golf courses that could be tournament golf courses. Today, we maybe have 100.A lot of the players say: “Why would you want to change something that’s really good?”Well, it’s not because it’s really good; it’s because it’s really good for a small percentage of people, and it needs to be better for a larger percentage of people. It’s a game we hope that can be enjoyed by a lot of people.Part of that enjoyment comes from the pros being able to play with the amateurs. I used to be able to play an exhibition with a club champion. We’d play the back tees, and I’d maybe hit it 15, 20 yards by him, but we had a game because he knew the golf course.Today, could you imagine Tiger Woods or Jon Rahm going to play an exhibition with a club champion? They’d hit it 100 yards by him. I mean, that’s not a game.“Oak Hill played pretty darn tough,” Nicklaus said of his win in 1980. “I didn’t really play all that well that week, hit it all over the place, but every time I got it on the green, I holed it.”Phil Sandlin/Associated PressThere’s also debate about the world ranking system. Who is the best player in the world right now?It’s very debatable. I think Rory McIlroy is the one who I would have said probably is the best player in the world, but then Rory doesn’t even make the cut at the first major. How does the best player in the world miss the cut at the first major?Jon Rahm is pretty darn good. And you’ve got Brooks Koepka, who has come back and he’s leading the tournament.I guess that’s the beauty of golf. It’s not like tennis, where you knew you were going to get Nadal and Djokovic.Gary Player doesn’t think golf has an era-defining figure at this moment — that there’s not a Tiger, there’s not someone like you.No, there’s not.Is there a player who could become that person?Rahm would be the closest.Is it better for golf to have one megawatt superstar everyone knows, or is it better to have a bunch of guys with big followings but who don’t command all of the attention?I think most sports are probably more healthy with more stars — more diversity in what’s going on and more people to look at. When Arnold Palmer and Gary and I played, if one of the three of us didn’t play in a tournament, they felt the tournament was a failure.But if you’ve got 10 or 12 guys who are really at the top, you don’t have to get more than two or three of them to create a tournament and you’ve got a really good field. If there’s only one guy, it’s all on his back, and I don’t think that’s real good.Since you mentioned Rory, what’s holding him back?I’m a big Rory fan, and he’s a good friend of mine, and I talk a lot with him. But I really don’t know.His usual is to go par, par, birdie, birdie, birdie, eight, and that’s what he’s not been doing. He and I have talked about it. I said, “Rory, it’s got to be 100 percent concentration, and you can’t let yourself get into a position where you can make a quad or whatever.” I think he understands that very well. He’s certainly very smart.Justin Thomas just missed the cut, and I root for Justin a lot, too. I spend a lot of time with him. Great kid. He’s struggling, and he’s missing just a little something right now.And Rahm looks like he’s just loaded with confidence. He sort of beams with it.When you size up Rahm, what kind of scouting report do you come away with?I’ve known him since he received a college award, the Nicklaus Award. I liked him then, and I followed his play from when he first started. I’ve always thought that he plays very smart golf. He played much the way I did: left to right, and played much for the power game. I like what he does. I like the way he goes about it. He’s got a little bit of fire in him. He can get mad, which is OK because it usually helps him. Some guys get mad and it destroys them, but it seems to help him.“Oak Hill is a golf course that fits right down his alley,” Nicklaus said of Jon Rahm, the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer.Doug Mills/The New York TimesHow do you see Rahm’s approach to the game working at Oak Hill?Oak Hill is a golf course that fits right down his alley. I was a left to right player, hit the ball long. When I won in 1980, I was the only person to break par. He’s a good putter. I putted very well at Oak Hill. I didn’t particularly play that great, but my putter was a deciding factor. Because my game was a strong game, I stayed in the tournament, and my putter won it for me, and I would think he’d fall into much the same category: If he was playing well or semi-well, he’ll be there. If he doesn’t putt well, he won’t win.But he’s a pretty darn good putter.Some of your colleagues have said they think there is a universe in which LIV, the new Saudi-backed league, could be good for golf. Do you buy that?Competition is good anywhere. My own view is that I was a part of the start of the PGA Tour. [LIV Golf officials] talked to me about wanting me to do it, and I just told them, “I can’t do it guys. I started my legacy on the PGA Tour, and I have to stay there.”I don’t have a big problem with it. I think there’s a big place for a lot of those guys who are near the end of their career. I think it’s all right from that standpoint.But for me, it was not. And for any of the young guys who really love playing the game of golf and love competition, I don’t think that 48 players and three rounds of golf and shotgun starts are what you really make a living of. They’ll set their families up for a long time, and I have no problem with any of the guys who have left. But it was not my cup of tea. And is there a universe for both of them? Probably so. I don’t know.You host the Memorial Tournament in June. What do you make of this no-cut plan that is going to take effect sometimes on the PGA Tour next year?I’m not fond of it. Some of it is coming from trying to not make the tournaments that aren’t elevated too secondary. If you’ve got 120 guys playing in a cut and they’re suddenly getting into the elevated tournaments, what kind of field are you going to have in the other tournaments? And if you have 70 players playing in one, the 71st player is a pretty darn good player on the PGA Tour.I think what they’re trying — and what it will do — is to get some guys you have not heard a lot of, and they’re going to be your stars who come along. They’re trying to build more names within the PGA Tour, and we’ll have to see it and see how it works out.At the Memorial Tournament, I’m not fond of a 70-player field for a couple of reasons. One is that we’ve got a lot of people who come out and see golf, and I want to see them golf all day, particularly on Thursday and Friday.Nicklaus with Rahm after he won the Memorial Tournament in 2020.Maddie McGarvey for The New York TimesIf Oak Hill doesn’t play tougher this time around, should it stay in the mix for the majors?Oak Hill will play plenty tough. Oak Hill is not going to bend; it’s too good of a golf course to yield. I would imagine the P.G.A. Championship at Oak Hill in May will have a pretty tough crop of rough. Now, the tour, on a weekly basis, has been cutting the rough down shorter, and driving distance has been emphasized and accuracy has not.I don’t think golf should be played that way, personally. The Memorial Tournament rough will not be short.I think that the game of golf is a combination of power, accuracy, intelligence and skill in how you play your shots. You try to make the golf course so that it doesn’t favor a 320-yard hitter, and you don’t want it to favor a 270-yard hitter, either. You want to give some diversity in there — some holes will favor some, and others will favor another — and their skill will allow that to happen.I feel like the fellow who is playing the best golf in the full round is the guy who should win. The tour has been more on the entertainment factor and the guy shooting low scores. Well, during most of my career, I avoided the courses that everybody shot low scores on. I felt like they didn’t really bring my talent out, I suppose. When I got a good, tough golf course, that’s where the better players shined, and Oak Hill will shine.What are the chances anyone could win, as you did, by seven strokes?If you get some rough and you get a bit of a dry period — you’re going to have probably some wind and some odd weather — then your scores could be up. But one guy may catch lightning in a bottle, a little bit like I did, and win by several. You just don’t know. More

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    On Second Thought, St. Andrews Steps Back From Remodel by Swilcan Bridge

    Want a patio-like surface by a bridge that’s perhaps more than 700 years old? St. Andrews did, but many others most definitely did not.St. Andrews Links — the stately sporting refuge in Scotland that has outlasted major champions, monarchs and well-to-do duffers — caved Monday and abandoned plans for a patio-like surface by the Swilcan Bridge.Few locales in golf invite quite so many pilgrimages as the stone bridge, which crosses a burn on the Old Course’s 18th hole and is the centerpiece of photographs that surface in Scottish pubs, man-caves all over suburban America and Tiger Woods’s office in Florida. So, perhaps it was predictable that even some well-intentioned remodeling of the area around it, worn down by the footwear of many thousands of players and visitors, would lead to fury, confusion and more than a few memes.Golf, you might have heard, is not always keen on change, and the resulting kerfuffle will amount to a brief, if breathtakingly effective, chapter in the very long history — like, maybe more than 700 years — of a 30-foot bridge. The whole spat, of course, could have been avoided had the bridge stuck to its long-ago mission of catering to livestock.But since that did not happen and because many people cannot mimic Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus or Woods on their scorecards, they merely congregate at the bridge, wave like a British Open champion, memorialize the moment for Facebook or Instagram and march on their way, leaving tattered turf behind.The idea that set off the scorn, course officials said over the weekend, was to replicate a past stone pathway and guard against repeated bouts of “disrepair” after a handful of other strategies, including artificial turf, proved insufficient. They added that they could “categorically state that no works have been undertaken to the bridge itself.”As if that would calm down, say, the denizens of Twitter. By Monday night, the Old Course was seeking another solution, new, old or at least not that one.“The stonework at the approach and exit of the bridge was identified as one possible long term solution,” the course’s administrators said in a statement that conceded that “while this installation would have provided some protection, in this instance we believe we are unable to create a look which is in keeping with its iconic setting and have taken the decision to remove it.”The statement noted “feedback from many partners and stakeholders as well as the golfing public,” which was a most proper way to characterize social media-fueled disdain and mockery.“What in the world were those idiots thinking building this?” Hank Haney, who once coached Woods, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. Nick Faldo, whose six major tournament titles included the 1990 Open at St. Andrews, was also aghast.“If you’ve travelled halfway around the world for your bucket list round at St Andrews, would you rather leave with a bit of historic dirt on your shoes or a few cement mix scraps?” he asked. Perhaps, he mused, the approach was a “strategically placed sundial (for slow play).”St. Andrews officials said Monday that turf would be restored “in the coming days.” Even though the internet never seems to forget, there is plenty of time for recovery between now and the next Open at St. Andrews. This year’s tournament will be at Royal Liverpool, the 2024 festivities will be at Royal Troon and 2025 will see the competition return to Royal Portrush.The R&A, which organizes the Open, has not announced its plans for other years. More

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    Tom Weiskopf, British Open Winner and Golf Course Designer, Dies at 79

    A four-time runner-up at the Masters, he won 16 PGA Tour events starting in the late 1960s and later became a television commentator.Tom Weiskopf, who won 16 PGA Tour events, most notably the British Open, and became a prominent golf course architect and broadcaster, died on Saturday at his home in Big Sky, Mont. Weiskopf, who was found to have pancreatic cancer in 2020, was 79.His death was announced by the PGA Tour.Hailed for what was considered a perfect and powerful swing, Weiskopf won five times on the PGA Tour in 1973, his shining moment coming at the British Open, played at the Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland. He led wire to wire, defeating Johnny Miller and Neil Coles by three shots with Jack Nicklaus four strokes back.Weiskopf was the runner-up four times at the Masters and tied for second at the 1976 United States Open. He also won the Canadian Open in 1973 and again in 1975, when he captured a one-hole playoff over Nicklaus, his fellow Ohio State University alumnus. Weiskopf was a member of the United States Ryder Cup teams in 1973 and 1975.Weiskopf turned pro in 1964 and played on the PGA Tour from 1968 to 1982.He later joined the Senior PGA Tour, now known as the Champions Tour, and defeated Nicklaus by four strokes in the 1995 United States Senior Open.Weiskopf in 1975 at the Masters golf tournament. He and Johnny Miller tied for second, one stroke behind Jack Nicklaus.Bob Daugherty/Associated PressThomas Daniel Weiskopf was born on Nov. 9, 1942, in Massillon, Ohio, the oldest of three children of Thomas Weiskopf, a railroad worker, and his wife, Eva Shorb, both of whom had enjoyed success playing in Ohio tournaments.His passion for golf was kindled when his father brought him to the United States Open at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, in 1957.“He took me straight to the practice range and pointed out Sam Snead,” Weiskopf recalled in the book “Chasing Greatness,” the story of the 1973 Open, by Adam Lazarus and Steve Schlossman. “The sound of Sam’s iron shots, the flight of the ball, thrilled me. I was hooked even before I started playing.”Weiskopf helped take Benedictine High School to the Cleveland city golf championship as a junior and senior, and then was recruited to Ohio State by golf coach Bob Kepler. Nicklaus was a senior on the Buckeyes’ golf team when Weiskopf arrived in Columbus. But they were never teammates, since N.C.A.A. rules prohibited freshmen from competing.Weiskopf embarked on his second golf career, as a course designer, and teamed with the golf architect Jay Morrish to create Troon North in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1984. “I knew I had to get away from the game for at least a year so I thought I’d see if I liked architecture,” he told Golf Digest in 2009. “I could still go back on tour if I wanted but I never did.”His achievements as a golf course designer included Loch Lomond in Scotland and TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, the site of the PGA Tour’s WM Phoenix Open since 1987.Weiskopf was part of the CBS team that covered Nicklaus’s victory in the 1986 Masters.When asked to provide viewers insight into Nicklaus’s thought processes in the final holes, he replied, “If I knew the way he thought, I would have won this tournament.”He also worked as a golf analyst for CBS Sports, covering the Masters, and contributed to ABC Sports and ESPN’s coverage of the British Open.Weiskopf defeated Nicklaus by four strokes in the 1995 United States Senior Open.John Ruthroff/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWeiskopf’s survivors include his wife, Laurie, and his children Heidi and Eric from his marriage to his first wife, Jeanne.When Weiskopf won the British Open, he paid tribute to his father.“Even now, I wish my father was alive to see this,” he said. “I didn’t put my best in front of him and doggone it, as long as I’m playing this game I’m going to do my best. I really wanted to win this tournament more than any other major tournament I ever played in.”When he redesigned the municipal North Course at Torrey Pines at San Diego in 2016, Weiskopf reflected on his career as a golf architect.“You create aesthetic value by having big mature trees, beautiful vista water features and bunker styles,” he said. “That creates the beauty of the golf course, I think. How could you find a better piece of property than this piece of property, for 36 holes of golf?” More

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    Masters Invitations Endure as a Signature Detail for the Tournament

    Follow our live coverage of the first round of the Masters.AUGUSTA, Ga. — The invitations have come his way for half a century, and Ben Crenshaw, now 70 years old, has kept each and every one.“The Board of Governors of the Augusta National Golf Club,” the handsome cards invariably begin, “cordially invites you to participate” in the year’s Masters Tournament.“I’m elated every time,” Crenshaw, who won the Masters in 1984 and 1995, said in an interview. “Every player will tell you that. They get that formal invitation, and it’s there before you, and it’s, ‘Wow, I’m qualified to play in the event.’”Few competitions in sports openly cultivate and savor mystique like the Masters, whose opening round will be played on Thursday. There are the green jackets for winners and Augusta National members, the Tuesday night dinners for past champions and the cheap pimento cheese sandwiches for fans, the manicured rectitude of a course splendid with azaleas and dogwoods and largely, proudly devoid of modern life’s conveniences and intrusions.One of the tournament’s throwback rituals, though, begins months before the field faces Augusta National’s punishing greens, and it usually unfolds in private: the mailing and receipt of invitations to the men who have qualified for the Masters.Augusta, quintessentially Southern, asks the golfers to R.S.V.P. to the invitations, which it has sent since the tournament’s start in 1934.The 2019 R.S.V.P. sent by Tiger Woods, who won the Masters that year.“Good style is always right at the time, good taste is always in taste,” said Gary Player, who won nine major tournaments, including three at Augusta National. “When you get that invitation, if you see it, it’s so exquisitely done with such class. Everything in business is negotiable except quality, and that embraces it to the hilt.”Player, one of the honorary starters for this year’s tournament, added in an interview in January: “I still look at it and I come back to the same conclusion: I’m just overwhelmed at how they do things with class.”The Masters has always been an invitational event, even before it was called the Masters, though its appeal and prestige have swelled since the tournament’s early days. The opportunity to play today is hardly a surprise — Augusta National publishes a roster of clear-cut ways to qualify, from being a previous Masters champion to finishing in the top four at the previous year’s P.G.A. Championship, though it has the authority to ask others to compete. But players aren’t always aware that the storied tournament comes with a physical invitation.Patrick Reed, who earned one of Augusta National’s green jackets in 2018, recalled that he had been tipped off to keep an eye on the mail for his first invitation after he won the Wyndham Championship, but that it was still “unbelievable” when the envelope from the club near the Savannah River arrived ahead of the 2014 Masters. He kept that first invitation, as well as the one from the year after he won.“Both of them are ones I’m going to save and cherish forever,” he said at a news conference in 2019, even though he did not know where his other invitations had wound up over the years. He added, “Just the chills when you’re opening it up, it’s just an awesome experience — even though it’s just a piece of paper that has your invitation on it.”Neither Crenshaw nor Player could recall any other tournament with quite such a habit, or, at least, not one quite so polished. (“I don’t remember getting a letter from the R&A,” Player, who has long described the British Open as his favorite tournament, mused wryly of that event’s organizer.) Many in golf, including Crenshaw, ascribe the enduring formality to Bobby Jones, an Augusta National founder who died in 1971.“To me, it reflects what Bob Jones always retained on nearly everything that’s at Augusta: It’s proper, it has a certain amount of grace to it, there’s a touch of humility,” Crenshaw said. “It’s beautifully done, and the font has never changed, and the seal is on it. It’s the way they do things.”Gary Player sometimes sent warm holiday cards.If the invitations are almost entirely unchanged across the generations, the responses are still evolving. Many of today’s players reply by email. But for decades, pen and paper were the way of Augusta National, and the club recently allowed The New York Times to review a selection of the written responses it holds in its archives — pages of golf history, to be sure, but also glimpses of players’ personalities and changing fortunes.“It will be a pleasure to be there,” Herman Keiser wrote in cursive on “Herman Keiser Golf Pro” letterhead in February 1946, about two months before he won the Masters, his only major victory.“It is with pleasure that I accept your invitation to play in the Masters Tournament,” Claude Harmon said in a Western Union telegram the next year. “It is always a treat. Thanks.”Sam Snead used the letterhead of Miami’s Hotel Dallas Park — players over the years also corresponded from the Sands Hotel in Tucson, Ariz., and a Holiday Inn in San Ysidro, Calif. — to write in 1949 that he would “accept with pleasure,” while Lloyd Mangrum simply declared his intention to play in 1955 on the invitation itself and returned it to Augusta.Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo opted for brief, if warm, letters.Clockwise from top left: Nick Faldo in 1988; Arnold Palmer in 2003; Doug Ford in 1957; Tiger Woods in 1995. Arnold Palmer’s wife often appeared to prepare his replies, Player sent one on a Christmas card and Crenshaw, in 1995, accepted as he wondered what José María Olazábal would choose for the menu at the Champions Dinner. That same year, someone wrote an acceptance and noted that it was from “Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods,” who had just turned 19. Then there is Woods’s distinctive signature on a piece of paper that could have been bought in a department store stationery aisle.When Woods told Fred S. Ridley, Augusta National’s chairman, in 2019 that he would play the Masters, the letterhead, emblazoned with the logo and the name of one of his corporate ventures, reflected his new station in life. (Woods’s agent did not respond to inquiries about who wrote the 1995 letter.)Some replies, like Palmer’s, felt formulaic, though he reflected in a 2003 letter that he anticipated “seeing my many friends at Augusta National during the week.” Others said they sought variety in how they crafted their responses, even as they were aware of what Augusta really wanted — simply an acceptance or regrets.“I tried to change it up a little bit,” Crenshaw said, “but they are just needing a response.”This year, in one way or another, 91 golfers accepted the invitation. More

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    The Masters: 10 Most Memorable Shots

    The tournament tends to inspire magnificent moments, and there have been many.The Masters, which begins on Thursday, never fails to deliver shots to remember, which generate roars from the crowd at Augusta National Golf Club.Gene Sarazen at Augusta National in 1935, when the tournament was known as the Augusta National Invitation Tournament.Augusta National, via Getty ImagesThis year will no doubt provide more shots that fall into that category and more thunderous roars. Most likely they will come during the back nine on Sunday, when, as the saying goes, the tournament truly begins.Here are 10 examples, in chronological order, of sensational shots by players who walked away with the title — and, since 1949, the coveted green jacket.1935: Gene SarazenThere’s no film of the shot that ranks as the greatest of all. That’s unfortunate.The Masters wasn’t known as the Masters then; it was the Augusta National Invitation Tournament and in only its second year.In the final round, Sarazen was trailing Craig Wood by three strokes. On No. 15, a par 5, Sarazen hit a 4-wood from about 230 yards away. The ball dropped into the cup for an incredible double eagle. Just like that, he was tied with Wood.Sarazen beat Wood by five shots the next day in a 36-hole playoff.1960: Arnold PalmerAfter making a long birdie putt on No. 17 to tie Ken Venturi, who had completed play, Palmer needed another birdie on the last hole to capture his second Masters title in three years.Mission accomplished.He nailed a 6-iron from the fairway to within five feet of the pin and then converted the putt.Palmer prevailed again at Augusta National in 1962 and in 1964, winning the last of his seven majors.Jack Nicklaus at the Masters in 1975.Augusta National/Getty Images1975: Jack NicklausHis tee shot at No. 16, a par 3, in the final round wasn’t what he was looking for, with the ball coming to a rest about 40 feet from the cup. He would, in all likelihood, get his par, but still trail the leader, Tom Weiskopf, by a shot.Forget about the par.Nicklaus knocked in the uphill putt for a birdie, lifting his putter in the air to celebrate. After Weiskopf and Johnny Miller missed their birdie attempts at 18, Nicklaus won his fifth green jacket.1986: Jack NicklausNicklaus, 46, was making an unexpected run on Sunday when he faced a second shot at the risk/reward 15th hole.The risk was worth the reward.From 202 yards away, he hit a 4-iron over the pond to about 12 feet from the pin.He converted the eagle putt and followed with birdies at 16 and 17 to win by a stroke. For Nicklaus, who fired a final-round 65 (30 on the back nine), it was his sixth Masters title and 18th, and final, major championship.1987: Larry MizeWhen a sudden-death playoff got underway, Mize was not the favorite. His opponents were Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, future Hall of Famers.Yet it was Mize, an Augusta native, who came through, chipping in from about 140 feet on No. 11, the second playoff hole, to outduel Norman. Ballesteros, in pursuit of his third green jacket, had dropped out after a bogey on the first playoff hole.Mize went on to win only two more PGA Tour events.1988: Sandy LyleAfter hitting his drive on No. 18 into the bunker, Lyle needed a par to move to a playoff with Mark Calcavecchia, who was already in the clubhouse.From 150 yards away, Lyle, who couldn’t see the flag, proceeded to hit a magnificent 7-iron, the ball trickling down the hill to stop about 10 feet from the pin.Lyle, of Scotland, made the birdie putt to become the first player from the United Kingdom to win the Masters.Mark O’Meara with his caddie on the 18th green at the 1998 Masters.Augusta National, via Getty Images1998: Mark O’MearaThe tournament seemed destined for the first sudden-death playoff since 1990.O’Meara, who was tied with David Duval and Fred Couples, was lining up a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole.There would be no playoff.O’Meara, who had started the day two shots back, knocked it in for his first major title. He won his second major a few months later in the British Open.2004: Phil MickelsonWithout question, Mickelson’s 6-iron from the pine straw on No. 13 in 2010 deserves to be on the list, but his birdie on the final hole in 2004 also stands out.Tied with Ernie Els, Mickelson hit his approach to 18 feet from the hole. A playoff appeared to be a strong possibility, and similar to O’Meara in 1998, Mickelson, 33, was in search of his first major triumph. He had finished second three times.Jim Nantz, the CBS anchor, said it best as the ball edged toward the cup.“Is it his time? … Yes.”Tiger Woods faced his fans after winning the Masters in 2005.Icon Sport Media, via Getty Images2005: Tiger WoodsLeading in the final round by only one, Woods was in trouble after his 8-iron to No. 16 missed the green to the left. He had to aim about 25 feet from the cup to catch the slope at the perfect spot.He found the perfect spot, and the ball stayed on the edge of the cup for a second or two before tumbling in for a miraculous birdie.Woods secured his fourth green jacket on the first playoff hole against Chris DiMarco.2012: Bubba WatsonWatson, on the second playoff hole against Louis Oosthuizen, sent his tee shot into the pine straw on the right.Advantage: Oosthuizen. Not for long.Watson managed to hook his wedge shot to about 15 feet from the cup. He finished with a par, earning the first of his two Masters victories when Oosthuizen made a bogey.“As an athlete, as a golfer,” Watson told reporters at the time, “this is the Mecca. This is what we strive for — to put on the green jacket.” More

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    At the Masters, Lee Elder Gets Another Moment in the Spotlight

    The first Black golfer to play the Masters in 1975 is an honorary starter as the 2021 tournament gets underway at Augusta National.AUGUSTA, Ga. — With the sun rising over his shoulders, Lee Elder was introduced to a crowd of several hundred on the first tee of the Masters Tournament on Thursday morning. Forty-six years earlier, on roughly the same spot at Augusta National, Elder had teed off as the first Black man to play in the tournament.“I was just so nervous,” Elder said, recalling the opening moments of his historic 1975 appearance.But on Thursday morning, Elder was at ease and smiling, joining the golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the first Black player included in a decades-long Masters tradition: a celebration of honorary starters who strike the first ceremonial shots of another Masters.Elder, 86, was seated in a white patio chair on the first tee next to about 20 family members, friends and Black P.G.A. golf professionals dressed in formal attire and aligned in a regal row. Recent issues with his mobility would prevent Elder from striking a shot on Thursday but he was greeted first by the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, Fred S. Ridley.“Today Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once again — not with a drive, but with his presence, strength and character,” Ridley said.Using the golf vernacular reserved for a player who, by a leading performance, has earned the right to tee off first, Ridley added, “Lee, it is my privilege to say you have the honors.”Elder pushed at the armrests of his chair to rise but wavered as he tried to stand until Player stepped forward and placed a hand under Elder’s left arm to lift him into an upright posture. Turning to the surrounding congregation, Elder nodded his head with a wave of his left hand, then raised the driver in his right hand as if to answer the ovation that endured for 40 seconds. Elder, with a grin, then returned to his seat.Lee Elder became an honorary Masters starter 46 years after first playing in the tournament.Doug Mills/The New York Times“Lee, it is my privilege to say you have the honors,” Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National, told Elder.Doug Mills/The New York TimesIt has been a sometimes taut atmosphere at the 85th Masters this week as players and tournament officials have been asked about the new, restrictive Georgia elections law roiling the state. While Elder was invited to participate in the 1975 tournament — many years after he and other Black players were qualified to play — Augusta National did not admit its first Black member until 1990, and its first woman until 2012.Elder’s role in the first tee ceremony, viewed as long overdue, has been much anticipated since it was announced last year and then delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The symbolism of his appearance was not lost at a time when the country is undergoing a racial justice reckoning. But for a long moment on Thursday, the focus seemed to be on enveloping Elder in a tribute.Elder acknowledged the crowd on the 18th green during the final round of the 1975 Masters.Leonard Kamsler/Popperfoto, via Getty ImagesElder leaves the clubhouse at Augusta National to get in a practice round.Associated PressElder hits his ball from a sand trap on the 18th hole.Associated PressAt a news conference shortly after the first tee ceremony, Player recalled that in 1969 he invited Elder to play in his home country of South Africa.“It’s quite sad to think that in those days, with the segregation policy that South Africa had, that I had to go to my president and get permission for Lee Elder to come and play in our PGA,” Player said, adding, “I was called a traitor.”Player recalled that Elder was greeted by loud standing ovations.“We then went on to other venues,” Player said. “You can imagine at that time in history how encouraging it was for a young Black boy to see this champion playing.”Elder recalled that he won 21 of 23 events in 1966 on the United Golf Association tour, which was a series of tournaments for African-American golfers at a time when they were regularly excluded from other top professional golf events. The next year, he bid to join the PGA Tour — he needed to provide a copy of a bank statement balance of $6,500 — and by 1969 found himself in a playoff to win the prestigious Firestone Open in Nicklaus’s native state of Ohio.As Elder told the story on Thursday, Nicklaus, who was seated next to him on the news conference dais, interjected, “I robbed you, didn’t I?”Elder turned to Nicklaus, “You did.”Nicklaus explained that he made three putts of more than 35 feet to keep the playoff alive. Finally, Nicklaus prevailed to win the tournament.“He got lucky,” said Elder, who unsuccessfully suppressed a snicker, even a giggle.He was having a good day.“It was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” he said of the first tee ceremony on Thursday.Pausing to adjust his eyeglasses, Elder added: “My heart is very soft this morning, not heavy soft, but soft because of the wonderful things that I have encountered. It’s a great honor and I cherish it very much.” More