Gary Player on Thursday during his ceremonial tee shot to open this year’s Masters.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Gary Player was asked for a favorite Masters Champions Dinner story, and he told two stories. This is Player, of course. Three-time winner at Augusta National. One-of-a-kind talker.
“My greatest experience was with Bobby Jones,” Player began. “He was riddled with arthritis, and, I mean, he was like that [motioning]. And he asked me to put the fork between his fingers, like that [motioning]. And when I cut his meat — and he was bent over, and I cut his meat. The only way he could eat it was to jab the fork in the steak and eat it. I took the opportunity; I said, ‘Mr. Jones, may I ask you a question, sir?’
“He says, ‘By all means.’
“Now, you know that third hole, the little neck on the left, if you put the ball on that pin there, you’ve hit the shot of your lifetime because if you’re short, you roll way back down the hill and if you’re too long, you have an extremely difficult shot. And I said, ‘Mr. Jones, you know, I can never birdie the third hole.’
“And he just said [changing his voice], ‘You’re not supposed to birdie the third hole.’”
With that then, here are the six other takes from Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson at their press conference following their ceremonial tee shots on Thursday morning to open this year’s Masters.
Nicklaus, who publicly endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 election, was asked if he would again, in 2024.
“Well, depends on who is running, doesn’t it?” Nicklaus said. “Well, we’ll have to see what happens. You know, I’ve always supported who I thought was the best candidate. I think Donald Trump was the last time. Whether Donald will be this time or not, I don’t know. We’ll wait and see.
“But I’ve been — and I don’t like to brand myself as a Republican. I like to sort of brand myself as being able to think freely, and I voted for a lot of Democrats through the years as well as Republicans, and I tried to pick the person I think would do the best job for our country. And we’ve got a year and a half to wait for that to see what’s going to happen.”
Player, Nicklaus and Watson were asked whether there was an imbalance in the game, in light of the USGA and the R&A’s recent proposal to roll back the ball.
All three supported the move. Watson, notably, was able to sum up some of the issues in about 200 words.
“Now, do we bifurcate?” he said. “The great term, ‘bifurcate.’ I was against that until recently when I said, you know, I think it’s best to have a pro ball to play with and then let everybody else play with a longer ball. That’s the way I look at it.
“Then, you know, it begs the question, OK, what do you do with the elite amateur competitions or the elite junior competitions where these kids carry it 270, 280 in the air? You can make a local rule that says that you have to play with the pro ball, but then what does that do for how people prepare for the tournaments and play the game normally, the elite amateurs? Do you play with the shorter ball or the longer ball? That’s the crux of the issue there if you bifurcate.
“The other thing about bifurcation is that if you just went with one ball, what would happen in 2026 to the hundreds of millions of golf balls that were produced to be the long ball and all of a sudden by 2026, you say, you can’t play with those balls anymore, the whole public. That’s a billion dollars of losses.
“So these are the issues that the R&A and the USGA are struggling with, and I’m coming down, I think we ought to play with a pro ball. That’s what I think we ought to do.”
Nicklaus, a proponent of a ball rollback for a while, was direct.
“Guys, there’s not many places you can go out and buy another golf course to put a tee,” he said. “We’re going to run out of land, run out of water. Plus the fact that you realize, the longer the golf ball goes, the more time it takes to play the game of golf. And the biggest problem we’ve got, one of the biggest problems is it takes too long to play the game. Anything we can do to shorten up the time to play and make it more sensible and easier, I think we’ve got to do it.”
There was also this, from Player:
“Jack and I were watching television the other day; we have never had a big man play golf here, guys and ladies,” he said. “These guys had thighs this big. They were 6-8. So thank goodness Augusta have been smart and have tried to get the players today to hit the same clubs we hit in our time. And of all the tournaments in the world, they have done the best.
“So we are in our infancy. We haven’t seen anything yet.”
The three were asked for the biggest change they’ve seen at Augusta. Player said it was the fairways.
Then he talked about lawnmowers and snooker tables.
“Technology has made a massive difference to the game, the condition of the golf course,” Player said. “And Tom’s great mentor, Byron Nelson, said one of the biggest changes is the mower. And that’s so true. The conditions of the course today — we had a man called Bobby Locke, who in America they never regard in the top 50 players, and he’s definitely in the top 15 players that ever lived. If you put him on greens like this, you would never see putting like you’ve never seen by any human being.
“He putted on bermuda greens and never putted on a bent green like this in his life. The greens today are like a snooker table.”
The three were also asked for a key life lesson. (The questions here sometimes take that tone.) Player said it was gratitude. He talked of meeting former President Dwight Eisenhower.
And Bobby Jones, the co-founder of Augusta.
“Such a wonderful golfer, gentleman, maybe the best player that ever lived,” Player said. “He played with a walking stick and a ball that went 80 yards less than today.”
We’ll end things with two more Champions Dinner stories. The talk of this year’s had been the potential table talk between LIV Golf’s six Masters winners and those winners who, we’ll say, aren’t watching LIV on the CW.
Nicklaus said it was peaceful.
“Everybody was wondering whether there was going to be any problems with the LIV players and things,” he said. “Zero. It was the most cordial evening you could ever have spent. It was terrific.”
Nicklaus also talked of how he came up with the menu at his first, in 1964. To note, these days, so popular is the decision that it comes with its own announcement.
“Bowman used to be a maître d’, and he came to me and said, ‘What would you like to have for your Masters dinner?’
“I said, ‘Bowman,’” I said, “’What do you think Mr. Roberts would like to have?’”
“He said, “Mr. Roberts would like to have a shrimp cocktail, a New York strip medium rare, some green beans, a baked potato, a tossed salad with some bleu cheese, and he’d like to finish off with Georgia peaches.”
“’That will be just fine, Bowman.’ So that’s what we had for my first Masters dinner.”
Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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