Golf Buzz

April 8, 2015 - 3:49pm
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Associated Press
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Michael Madrid, USA Today Sports Images
Jack Nicklaus reacts after a hole-in-one on the fourth hole during the Par 3 Contest prior to the 2015 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

By Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press

Six-time Masters champion and all-time leading major winner Jack Nicklaus may be 75 years old, but he still has a way of wowing the patrons at Augusta National.

On the grounds where the Golden Bear has a bank of countless memories, he added another on Wednesday in the Par 3 Contest with a hole-in-one on the fourth hole.

His ball bounced twice, then took a third hop before retreating into the hole. Nicklaus was congratulated by playing partners Ben Crenshaw and Gary Player, then acknowledged the ovation from the crowd, raising his arms in the air with a double fist-pump. 
"It's funny, I had an interview this morning and I said, 'Well, all I've got to do is go out and win the Par-3 and make a hole-in-one,' and I make a hole-in-one," Nicklaus said. 
"I actually hit two more shots that hit right around the edge of the hole, had a chance to go in," he said. "I didn't finish up very well, but we had a lot of fun." 
Kevin Streelman beat Camilo Villegas on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff to win the Par-3 Contest. They finished the nine holes tied at 5 under, then each opened the playoff with a par then a birdie before Streelman topped Villegas, who had not one, but two holes-in-one through his first eight holes. 
Winning the Par 3 Contest has been considered a bad omen since no one has won both that title and the Masters in the same week. Streelman called it a fun day where his focus was on helping Ethan from the Make-a-Wish Foundation have a great day. 
"Done all I can do," Streelman said. "Now I've just got to go out and have fun and play." 
Villegas got his first ace on No. 4 along with Jack Nicklaus and Texas Tech star Matias Dominguez of Chile. The Colombian followed that with his second hole-in-one of the day on the 120-yard No. 8, taking him to 5-under 22 and tying Streelman. 
Holes-in-one are nothing new for Villegas who had the 14th of his career last week at home with a 5-iron. He said his pitching wedge on his first hole-in-one Wednesday kept trickling back and went in the hole. He used a 54-degree wedge on his second ace. 
"The second one, we were a little more emotional there," Villegas said. "We just kind of jumped. Enjoying it, man." 
Tiger Woods had company playing the Par 3 for the first time since 2004. His 6-year-old son, Charlie, and 7-year-old daughter, Sam, caddied for him with girlfriend, Olympic skiing champion Lindsey Vonn, joining them. Woods even let his daughter handle his putting, and she showed a deft touch on the green. 
"I'll always have memories of my pop at Augusta and now Sam & Charlie," Woods wrote on Twitter. "An amazing day." 
Family time is the best part of this event. 
Ernie Els let his daughter Samantha putt. Caleb Watson looked adorable in his caddie suit and green hat following his daddy, two-time Masters champ Bubba, from hole to hole. Brendon Todd had his hands full carrying son Oliver when not swinging a club. 
"Definitely the best part was carrying my son, six-month-boy, all over showing him off to the crowd," Todd said.
Here's Nicklaus's ace:


As PGA Tour pro Bob Estes noted on Twitter, we golf fans should savor these moments:



As it turns out, we probably shouldn't have been surprised by the ace. Nicklaus called it in an interview with ESPN's Scott Van Pelt earlier on Wednesday:



T.J. Auclair of contributed to this story.

April 8, 2015 - 1:08pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Bubba Watson
USA Today Sports Images
Bubba Watson served up the same meal at last night's Champions Dinner as he did two years ago.

An annual tradition at the Masters -- its most exclusive tradition -- is the Tuesday night Champions Dinner.

The reigning champ, Bubba Watson in this instance, puts together the menu for the evening to serve all the living Masters champions who choose to attend, along with Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne.

RELATED: Masters tee times and pairings | Vijay's water-skip ace | 10 players to watch

Last night, Watson served up the same meal as he did two years ago. Here's a look at the menu, autographed by everyone in attendance, that Watson tweeted out:


And here's a look at the champions in attendance, along with Payne: 


Jeff Knox
USA Today Images
Jeff Knox is the non-competing marker at Augusta National when an odd number of players make the Masters cut. On Saturday, he played alongside Rory McIlroy.

Jeff Knox is a legend at Augusta National.

Though the 49-year-old has never been a competitor in the Masters, he's racked up his share of tee times during tournament week, playing as a non-competing marker.

Essentially, when the field has an odd-number of contestants after the 36-hole cut, Knox fills in with the odd man as a playing partner for pace of play consideration.

RELATED: Masters tee times Complete coverage | 2015 Masters to be Crenshaw's last

Last year, for instance, Knox was paired with Rory McIlroy in the third round... and beat him.'s Rex Hoggard reported this week that Knox played a practice round last Friday with Tiger Woods.

And, McIlroy, so impressed with Knox's familiarity with Augusta National, was going to seek him out for advice as he attempts to complete the career grand slam this week.

Hoggard wrote:

According to the Augusta Chronicle in 2011, Knox holds the club’s course record from the member tees, an 11-under 61 he shot in 2003.

McIlroy was so impressed with Knox’s game, and his knowledge of Augusta National, he said he planned to solicit advice from him before this year’s tournament, where the Ulsterman will be vying to complete the career Grand Slam.

“Playing with Jeff, it was a treat for me to see how he played the golf course,” McIlroy said earlier this year. “I think I shot 71 to maybe Jeff’s 70. So even though everyone said, ‘Oh, you got beat by an amateur,’ not many amateurs can shoot (70) off the Masters tee at Augusta.”

Below is the story we brought you a year ago of Knox:

Surely you've dreamed about playing Augusta National. You've probably also wondered what it would be like to play with the atmosphere that surrounds the Masters.

Well, Jeff Knox has done both -- more than a few times.

Knox, 48, is an Augusta National member, who serves as a "non-competing marker" during Masters week.

What does that mean? Well, when an odd number of players make the 36-hole cut -- in the case of this year's Masters 51 players made the cut -- the one player who is scheduled to play alone with the first tee time is given the option to take a "marker."

The marker is a non-competing playing partner. He's pretty much there to keep the competitor's scorecard and so that the competing player can keep a nice pace.

Knox has played in a number of USGA events through the years and once shot a 61 at Augusta National.

On Saturday morning, Knox teed it up with Rory McIlroy. McIlroy was the last player to make the cut Friday at 4 over.

Yahoo! writer Jay Busbee wrote today that Knox is no stranger to teeing it up during Masters week, and included some stories from a Guardian article last year, including teeing it up against Craig Stadler and outrdriving Miguel Angel Jiminez.

April 8, 2015 - 9:13am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Vijay Singh
Here's a look back at a 2009 Masters practice round, when 2000 Masters champ Vijay Singh aced the par-3 16th hole after skipping the ball across the water.

The Masters has so many great, fun traditions.

Two of those fun on-course traditions that come before the actual tournament proper begins are the Par 3 Contest and the skipping-the-ball-across-the-water on the par-3 16th hole during practice rounds.

Basically, after hitting their actual tee shots on No. 16, players go to the front of the tee box right at the water's edge. From there, they drop a ball, take a swing and skip the ball across the water to see who can come closest to the hole. The patrons love it.

RELATED: Masters tee times | 10 players to watch | Tuesday's best photos

Well, on April 7, 2009, the patrons got an even bigger thrill than they bargained for.

On that day, 2000 Masters champion Vijay Singh did one better than skipping his ball across the water and onto the green.

Instead, he skipped it across the water, onto the green and into the hole.

Luckily for those of us who weren't there in person, a patron captured it on camera:


Come on, now. 

Jimmy Wright
Courtesy of Jimmy Wright
A PGA Professional with a powerful swing, Jimmy Wright drove down Magnolia Lane in April 1970 to play in his first Masters, having earned his invitation to the prestigious tournament by finishing fourth in the PGA Championship the summer before.

A PGA Professional with a powerful swing, Jimmy Wright drove down Magnolia Lane in April 1970 to play in his first Masters, having earned his invitation to the prestigious tournament by finishing fourth in the PGA Championship the summer before.

He was in the prime of an outstanding playing career, would go on to compete in 26 professional major championships, set course records at storied venues like Carnoustie and Westchester and earn a sterling reputation as one of the finest players ever seen in the PGA of America’s talent-rich Metropolitan section in New York.

“What he accomplished as a club pro playing the game is unsurpassed, really,” PGA of America historian Bob Denney said.

MORE: Complete coverage of the 2015 PGA Professional National Championship

Wright is today, and may remain, the last PGA Professional to compete in the Masters, an event that began as a relaxed invitational in 1934 for Bobby Jones and friends but has become perhaps the most recognizable golf tournament in the world.

What a week it was amid the dogwoods and azaleas. He brushed shoulders with legends, crushed tee shots and putted with precision on the tricky greens of Augusta National.

Wright recorded a 72-hole total of 293, which was 14 shots higher than winner Billy Casper, but also lower than three past champions, including Arnold Palmer. His score was also one shot higher than what he needed to finish in the top 24 and return to play the Masters the following year.
He never made the field again.

“When you’re young, you think you’ll get back,” Wright, 75, said. “I didn’t realize the significance at the time.”

Born in Arkansas and raised in Oklahoma, Wright accepted a scholarship to Oklahoma State, where he was a three-time All-American, one of the first stars in a program that produced 1986 PGA champion Bob Tway and U.S. Ryder Cup regulars Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler.

MASTERS: Full Masters scoring and leaderboard

After college, Wright married his childhood sweetheart Joyce, spent time in the Army and returned home eager to put to use his business degree and start a career in golf. Playing the PGA Tour full time was a risky deal for a family man in the 1960s. The leading money winner for the season earned less than $100,000. The modern tour pro earns that much by finishing 15th or 20th in a regular season tournament.

So in 1964, Wright took a job as an assistant pro at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., working under the legendary Claude Harmon, 1948 Masters champion.

A year later, Wright was hired as head professional at Inwood Golf Club on Long Island where he remained for a decade. In 1969 at NCR Country Club in Dayton, Ohio, he dueled Raymond Floyd and Gary Player for the PGA Championship. Wright finished fourth, which remains the best finish by a club professional at stroke play. At the time, the top eight finishers were invited to play in the next year’s Masters.

Massive galleries faced and tournament pressure felt at the ‘69 PGA helped prepare Wright for the challenge of playing the Masters.

“The ‘69 PGA was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” Wright said. “We were on the first hole in the last round and I remember looking down the fairway at people lined three or four deep all the way to the green. Must have been 10 or 15 thousand people. I couldn’t see the fairway, thought I might kill somebody.”

Wright sharpened his game for the 1970 Masters by following the PGA Tour from January through March. In those days, before the all-exempt tour, each Monday any pro could try to qualify for a tournament. Wright chased the Tour up the West Coast and over to Florida, making four cuts in nine starts before he arrived in Augusta.

He and his wife rented a motel room in town.

Early in the week he played a practice round with a young amateur from Stanford University named Tom Watson, having no reason to think the free-swinging redhead would win the Masters twice in the next 12 years.

Once Wright became comfortable on what he described as “hallowed ground,” he felt the course suited his game. Wright had a high right-to-left ball flight and his length off the tee enabled his drives to reach some of the flatter parts of Augusta National’s rolling fairways. The wide landing areas and light rough reminded him of the courses back home in Oklahoma.

Still, on the opening Thursday jangly nerves prevailed - and Wright wasn’t the only one feeling them.

“I remember the first round, teeing off right in front of me was (Tom) Weiskopf,” Wright said. “We were on the tee, and he cold-topped it 20 yards. Back then the tee box dropped off. The ball rolled to the top of the tee and down the hill and I just thought don’t let me do that in front of all these people.”

Wright opened with 75, but bounced back to shoot 72-71, hitting an 8-iron into the par-5 No. 13 on his second shot in one round and lipping out the putt for eagle. A 1-under 35 on the front nine Sunday put him in excellent position for a strong finish.

Most observers feel the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. Wright had trouble starting his back nine on Sunday.
“Back then they had a barker who stood by the 18th green to tell the gallery as the twosomes were coming up who they were and what they had accomplished to get to the Masters.” Wright said.

In this case the golfer approaching 18 needed no introduction: it was Arnold Palmer. Wright stood roughly 60 yards away on the 10th tee, waiting to play.

“(The barker) started off with his national amateur and went through everything he had won. I kept getting up to the tee and backing off. It probably took five minutes, but it felt like a half hour.”

Wright’s drive started right and failed to draw on the downhill dogleg left par four. From the trees, he struggled to a double bogey, lost his momentum, shot 40 on the back nine and though he didn’t realize it at the time squandered a chance to crack the top 24. He likes to joke that Palmer cost him a shot at playing in another Masters.

“Even if that hadn’t happened I might have done something worse coming in,” Wright said.

It was a costly swing for Wright, who earned $1275 for his tie for 29th. But not his biggest regret from the week. As a competitor in the tournament he was given four clubhouse passes for tournament week. The following year, when given the chance to purchase the passes again, he declined.

“I let ‘em go,” he said. “Worst decision I’ve ever made in my life. They weren’t quite as popular as they are now. They weren’t easy to get. They are impossible now.”

Wright never returned to Augusta National, neither as a guest of a member nor to watch the tournament. He’s wanted to, it just hasn’t worked out. A lifetime member of the PGA of America, he and Joyce have been married 51 years, have four adult daughters and live in the Sarasota, Florida area. He’s a member at The Concession Golf Club, where he worked until 2012. He plays golf about once a week and has shot his age or better 58 times, including a 73 last month at the Ritz-Carlton course in Bradenton.

He holds only fond memories of his week competing on an iconic course that can scare the toughest pro and thrill a golf novice. Most years he’s glued to the television screen during the tournament, amazed by the talent displayed by the Tour’s new breed of stars, impressed by their prodigious drives and delicate touch.

Their shots bring wonderful memories to life.

Looking back on a stellar, rewarding career in golf, he’s grateful for all he accomplished. A seven-time Metropolitan PGA Player of the Year, he competed in 13 PGA Championships, 11 U.S. Opens and an Open Championship.

“I’ve been very very fortunate and owe a lot to the game and the PGA of America” he said. “I always felt I was representing a lot of PGA members when I was able to play in those tournaments. There were a lot of other guys who were certainly good enough but just didn’t have the opportunity.”