Palmer forces change at Masters

By MIKE RABUN, UPI Sports Writer  |  April 9, 2003 at 3:08 PM
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AUGUSTA, Ga., April 9 (UPI) -- Jack Stephens was chairman of the Masters eight years ago when the tournament honored Arnold Palmer by placing a plaque with his name on it near the 16th tee.

On that occasion, Stephens told those who had gathered for the brief tribute:

"Arnold has promised us that he will play in the Masters until he is 100."

Palmer was disappointed, therefore, to learn last year that beginning in 2004, anyone beyond the age of 65 would not be allowed to play in the tournament.

He was so disappointed, in fact, that he complained. And when golf's largest living legend complains, even the Masters takes notice.

"I guess you could say that I overfixed the problem," current Masters Chairman Hootie Johnson said Wednesday. "We did have a problem. And I overfixed it."

Johnson announced prior to the 2002 tournament that former champions would no longer receive the lifetime invitation to play in the event.

He said he believed some of the former champions had abused the privilege because they no longer could post a decent score and he went so far as to send letters to Billy Casper, Gay Brewer and Doug Ford asking them not to compete.

But after both Palmer and Jack Nicklaus wrote to him saying they thought he had gone too far, Johnson threw out the year-old edict.

"Arnold wrote me a letter and expressed his displeasure and discomfort," Johnson said. "And, a few days later, I got a letter from Jack expressing similar sentiments.

"I asked the two of them to come to Augusta and visit with me. And they did."

During that meeting, Johnson said he thought Augusta National founder Bobby Jones intended the lifetime exeption to last only as long as a player could be competitive and would finish at least 36 holes.

"They (Palmer and Nicklaus) were in agreement with that," Johnson said. "And I also talked to Raymond Floyd and to Tom Watson and to Byron Nelson on the same issue. They all seemed to be in agreement with that philosophy.

"And with that, we rescinded the new qualifications that were to go into effect in 2004."

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