Let's rewind the tape on the 2000 season and do a little editing.
Despite a heroic last-minute charge by Tiger Woods, Matt Gogel
hangs on to win at Pebble Beach, thus ending Woods's winning
streak at five. A week earlier in Phoenix, Tom Lehman, not Robert
Allenby, comes a cropper on the 72nd hole, handing the victory to
the Australian. The week before that, South Africa's Rory
Sabbatini pars in on the back nine to edge Jesper Parnevik by a
There you have it, folks, three new Tour champions, previously
unknown, mostly unheralded and, sad to say, definitely uninvited
to the Masters.
Why, you ask? We take you back to November 1998, when the Lords
of Augusta announced they had jiggered with the 16-category list
of qualifications for invitation to their tournament in 2000. "We
think our new methodology better reflects the changes in golf,"
said chairman William (Hootie) Johnson. Translation: We want to
make certain that all players we consider qualified get in, and
weed out the riffraff that keeps sneaking in the backdoor.
So what the gentlemen in the green jackets did was eliminate
category 13, which said that all the winners of Tour events
played between one Masters and the next would be invited. No
sir, not anymore. The upshot: Six 1999 winners--Rich Beem, Olin
Browne, Brad Faxon, Brian Henninger, J.L. Lewis and Tom Pernice
Jr.--won't be packing their bags for Augusta this April. If
Gogel and Co. had won this winter, the number of Tour winners
MIA (missing in Augusta) would have been nine.
Eliminating number 13 was a ludicrous decision, and Masters
officials are probably just beginning to realize it. If someone
wins a Tour event, he probably can play better than half the
Masters field. In 1979 a 27-year-old rookie named Fuzzy Zoeller
won the San Diego Open, thus qualifying for the Masters, which he
also won. The category was clear-cut: You win, you're in.
In 1998 the Masters cooked up a new category: Anyone in the top
50 in the World Ranking is now invited, but those six uninvited
'99 winners, as well as Gogel et al., are not among the 50.
Paul Azinger is, but barely. The golf world cheered when Azinger,
having battled cancer, won in Hawaii last month, his first
victory since the '93 PGA. The win moved him from the mid-70s in
the World Ranking to 44th, but he has since slipped to 47th and
thus could fall out of the top 50 before the March 6 cutoff. If
Azinger misses out, there will be some red faces among those
Relying on the World Ranking is a very un-Augusta stance. A man
in London throws a lot of statistics into a computer, which
determines who can play in the Masters. Can you imagine anyone
telling Clifford Roberts who was eligible to play in his
Allowing all Tour winners to play in Augusta would increase the
field this year to only 98 or so, about 60 players fewer than at
any other major. But if Hootie and the boys think 98 is too many,
I have a suggestion. (Better sit down for this one, gentlemen.)
Take another look at category 1, which guarantees a lifetime
exemption to anyone who wins the tournament. Of the official
invitees this year, 29--more than a quarter of the field--fall
into this category. True, six of these former champs will not
tee it up, but that still leaves 23, some of whom have
difficulty climbing the hill on the 1st fairway.
Of these former champions only four have the remotest chance of
winning. Tiger, of course. Fred Couples and Jose Maria Olazabal,
sure. And, I suppose, Mark O'Meara. But Gay Brewer, Billy
Casper, Charles Coody and, heaven help us, Doug Ford? Heroes of
the '60s, but ready for the waxworks now. Let them attend the
champions' dinner on Tuesday, play in the par-3 tournament on
Wednesday and be honorary starters on Thursday, but get them off
the golf course once the tournament starts. I would much rather
watch Matt Gogel.
Here is my proposal for thinning out this herd. Give the new
champ a 20-year exemption. The average winner would be roughly
50 when his time ran out. Fine. Do I hear you screaming, "What
about Arnie and Jack?" I have that covered. If someone wins
three or more green jackets, he can play as long as he wants.
That way the folks will always be able to watch Jack, Arnie,
Gary and, someday, Tiger.