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MASTERS Policy that banned some former winners rescinded



Published: Fri, April 4, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus talked to Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

In a rare reversal, Augusta National Golf Club on Monday scrapped its new policy banning former champions from playing in the Masters after they turn 65, instead allowing them to tee it up as long as they feel competitive.

"We will count on our champions to know when their playing careers at the Masters have come to an end," chairman Hootie Johnson said.

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who have 10 green jackets between them and are the only Masters champions who are members at Augusta National, convinced Johnson to abandon his policy.

Policy origin

The Masters gives its champions a lifetime pass to play in the tournament, but Johnson became increasingly upset when some of them withdrew after the first round, or sometimes after playing only one hole.

The policy was to start in 2004.

Palmer, 73, plans to play next week in the Masters and also next year, which would give him 50 appearances in the major championship he has won four times.

"I had it in the back of my mind ... that I want to play competitively in the Masters for 50 years," Palmer said in a statement. "I am personally very pleased that will be possible now that the matter has been resolved as I hoped it would be."

While most of the focus this year has been on the all-male membership controversy at Augusta National, the champions policy was divisive in golf circles.

Three-time champion Gary Player said the Masters had broken a promise, while Gay Brewer was so angry about Johnson's letter last year asking him not to play that he refused to attend the annual Champions Dinner held Tuesday night of the tournament.

The letters sent to Brewer, Billy Casper and Doug Ford drew so much notoriety that when Palmer announced last year that he was playing in his final Masters, he joked, "I don't want to get a letter."

Supporters

Several Masters champions still active on the PGA Tour applauded the decision, especially because it cleared the way for Palmer to keep playing.

"Arnie is welcome wherever he wants to play," two-time winner Bernhard Langer said. "I think there will be a time when even Arnie will say, 'It's enough.' Whenever that time is, he will know."

Player, who won the last of his three Masters in 1978, said he didn't know how many more times he would play.

"This still may be my last competitive appearance, and I will just have to take it year by year," he said. "But now, at least I feel welcomed again."




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