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Master of His Domain.
April 9, 2004
by Bill Hogan


 
 

The magnolia trees and azaleas are in bloom. Pimento cheese sandwiches are being neatly wrapped in green cellophane. The caddies' white jumpsuits have been neatly pressed. It's, once again, time for golf's premier major championship, The Masters.

For the 68th time, the world's greatest golfers are teeing it up in Augusta, Georgia with the idea of adding their name to the distinguished list of Masters Champions. For the 50th and last time, Arnold Palmer is there looking for one more heroic round to top off an incredible career.

 
 


The great Bobby Jones co-founded Augusta National Golf Club. Jack Nicklaus lays claim to the most green jackets with six. Tiger is trying to become only the third golfer in history to win this prestigious event four times. But Arnie is now, and will always be, the King of Magnolia Lane.

Jack had the Augusta crowd roaring in 1986 when, at the age of 46, his back nine charge put him atop the leader board on the final day. Eleven years later, the tournament patrons rallied around 21-year old Tiger Woods who blew away the field in winning his first Masters by a record 12 strokes.

Jack has his place in Masters history carved in stone. Tiger is still writing his Masters resume, surely one for the ages when all is said and done. But Augusta National is Arnold Palmer's domain.

Golf fans admire the many accomplishments of Nicklaus and marvel at the way Tiger can dominate the course and his competition. As for Arnold Palmer, golf fans love him. Men and women, some too young to have ever seen Arnold win a major, adore the man from Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

That's what makes Ken Venturi's revelation – a better name for it would be accusation – that Arnie cheated during the 1958 Masters so disturbing. Venturi claims, in his new book "Getting Up & Down: My 60 Years in Golf," that Palmer broke the rules on the par-3 12th hole in the final round of the '58 tournament.

Long story short: Palmer took it upon himself to play two balls from behind the green on the 12th hole because his first ball plugged in the ground and the tournament official denied him relief. With the plugged ball, Palmer scored a double-bogey five; with the second ball, he made par.

The tournament officials ruled that Arnie was entitled to relief from the original plugged ball and the score from the second ball – a par 3 – would count on his scorecard. Venturi, 46 years later and on the eve of Palmer's 50th and final Masters appearance, insists that the ruling was incorrect, the officials were incorrect, the tournament executives were incorrect and Palmer was incorrect.

Everybody involved in the situation on the 12th hole in the final round of the 1958 Masters was wrong – except Venturi. When his book was released, it didn't take long for the media to publicize Venturi's revelation. Venturi took exception to the newspaper stories that characterized the incident as an accusation of cheating.

"I never, ever used that word (cheating)," Venturi told the Associated Press. "It's caused me a tremendous amount of embarrassment." I read the book. For 10 pages Venturi goes on about how Palmer knowingly and willingly broke the rules when he played a second ball at the 12th. Sounds to me like he's calling Arnie a cheater.

It also sounds to me like a whole bunch of sour grapes. Venturi explains in his book that the episode at the 12th made him so upset that he lost his concentration and, in the process, any chance he had of winning the tournament.

This coming off the heels of the biggest collapse in Masters history two years earlier when, in 1956, Venturi entered the final round at Augusta with a four stroke lead over Cary Middlecoff and an eight stroke lead over Jack Burke, Jr. Burke shot 71 and beat Venturi by one stroke.

Arnie birdied the final two holes of the 1960 Masters to come from behind and edge out Venturi for his second of four green jackets. Venturi would never win the Masters. Still it isn't right for him to sully the reputation of golf's greatest ambassador 46 years after the fact.

Arnie's Army is at Augusta this week in full force to show their appreciation one last time to the King of golf. It would behoove Ken Venturi to stay clear of the gallery.

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