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Augusta, major men & Tiger’s driving

Asked at this year’s Masters Tournament about the thorny subject of there being no women members at Augusta National, the club chairman, Billy Payne, blustered as well as he could (i.e. unconvincingly) but essentially the club’s stance on the 10th anniversary of the initial Martha Burk-led campaign on the matter is that the song remains the same – “All issues of membership have been and are subject to private deliberations of the members,” was the sum of what Payne repeatedly said.

As with the R&A, there does seem to be something of a moral stand-off between the two clubs proclaiming all they do to promote the game while making it clear that half the world’s population could never have the chance to be part of such august institutions. Reform may come but, if and when it does, it will have taken comparatively longer than a Ryder Cup fourball.

We have been here before, of course – a long time ago. Back in 1971, Augusta had tired of the constant criticism that its criteria for inviting American golfers to compete in the tournament were racist, based on the fact that no black golfer had ever played in it. Clifford Roberts, then chairman of the club, announced that henceforth any winner of a PGA Tour event would get an invitation. (If this had previously been the rule, Charlie Sifford would have already qualified to play there.) Two years went by and the world was still waiting. A deputation from Congress denounced the club as a discriminatory institution.

Roberts pointed out that the club had altered its eligibility rules and wasn’t going to invite a player just because he was black. In a statement dripping with sarcasm, he added: “We are a little surprised as well as being flattered that 18 Congressmen should be able to take time out to help us operate a golf tournament.”

In April 1974, Lee Elder won the Monsanto Open and, while he had almost a whole year to wait to play in the Masters, that was sorted. But Roberts’ reaction to those Congressmen is perhaps likely to be reflected in what the club’s current panjandrums think about one of Barack Obama’s spokesman saying: “[The president’s] personal opinion is that women should be admitted. We are kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything.”

I’m sure Augusta National will admit women members one day, as it should. Maybe it will happen soon. But it will be at a time of the club’s choosing and, probably, when no one is looking and no one is calling on it to do it.

BEGINNING WITH THE 1994 USPGA CHAMPIONSHIP, 15 consecutive major championships produced 15 different winners, nine of which were first-timers. Paul Azinger was just putting into words what many tour pros of the day believed when he said: “That’s the way it is. No one will dominate the game again.” Then you-know-who came along and the golf world changed completely. Tiger Woods won 14 majors between the 1997 Masters and the 2008 US Open, including holding all of them at once when he won four in a row from the 2000 US Open. After his triumph at Torrey Pines in 2008, achieved on a wrecked leg with an almost biblical inevitability, as shots that had to be made were invariably made, Woods had to sit out the rest of the season to have surgery and recuperate. Shortly after that, we were back to where we were when Azinger made his comment.

Starting with Padraig Harrington at the 2008 USPGA Championship, we’ve had 14 different winners of the last 14 majors, 11 of which – including the last eight, Bubba Watson at the Masters being the most recent - have been first-timers. Who’d be a bookie writing the odds for the US Open at Olympic?

THE R&A HAVE SUGGESTED THAT THE BBC MIGHT DO well to retain its coverage of the Open Championship, at least on an exclusive basis, when the present contract expires in 2016. “Like everything else in life, you need to be in practice to do it well,” said Peter Dawson, the R&A’s chief executive, alluding to the fact that the BBC hardly shows golf anymore.

So if that comes to pass, where will the BBC show it? On one of its two main channels, one would presume. Or perhaps elsewhere?

We return somewhat to Tiger Woods. While watching the opening episode of The Bridge, the latest Scandidrama to be screened in the 9 o’clock Saturday night slot on BBC Four, my thoughts strangely but ineluctably turned to golf when a car involved in the key incident in the plot was revealed to be a black Cadillac Escalade…

June 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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