Augusta National Gets a Little Rough Around the Edges

At the Masters, the grass is always greener. And now, just in time for next month's tournament, it's also longer.

Yes, they are growing rough at Augusta National--and that's big news.

Augusta National always let you drive it almost anywhere without much penalty, thanks to fairways wide enough to land aircraft. But the course made up for it with greens so hard and slick they were like putting in bathtubs.

But with rough, trying to get it out and stay on those contoured, rock-hard greens . . . it's not an inviting prospect.

Said Ernie Els: "Augusta with rough? On a hard, fast day? Man!"

Indeed. Masters officials don't call the grass rough. They describe it as the "second cut," but whatever you might call the stuff, it's going to be from five-eighths of an inch to 1 3/8 inches and it's going to be featured at every hole--although it is presented differently at the four par threes.

Besides growing rough, there are a few more revisions to make the course more difficult. Holes No. 2 and No. 17 are each 25 yards longer. The green at No. 11 was raised two feet and made larger and the pond was raised a foot. The mounds on the right side of the 15th fairway are gone and 20 pine trees are in their place.

"While changes made to the golf course this year included distance, the principal objective was to place greater emphasis on accuracy off the tee," said Hootie Johnson, Augusta's chairman. "The second cut is consistent with that."

It should be noted that Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters with a record 18-under-par 270. Former chairman Jack Stephens said last year that there was no cause for alarm, no reason for drastic measures.

Maybe, but one year later, rough at Augusta, even if it is less than half the height of U.S. Open rough, has to be considered, well, alarming--at least in the players' view.

Greg Norman said he doesn't like Augusta altered in any way.

"I like to step up on the tee and say 'Gene Sarazen did this' or 'Byron Nelson did this' and feel the same piece of nostalgia and history," Norman said. "When you change it, you change all that."

Consider it changed.

HANK IF YOU LOVE AUGUSTA

The last time an amateur won the Masters was, well, never. One came close. It was 45 years ago that Billy Joe Patton finished one shot out of a playoff between Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, which Snead won.

But 23-year-old U.S. Amateur champion Hank Kuehne, who is in the field this year, isn't about to throw himself into Rae's Creek and give up.

In fact, Kuehne's opinion on whether an amateur can compete for the Masters included this word: realistic.

He didn't say fantasy.

"I think it's definitely realistic," Kuehne said. "You know, Matt Kuchar contended in [the Masters and the U.S. Open] last year.

"Just imagine that [an amateur] comes in and he's having a week like a lot of the guys do on tour. You know, they get hot one week and look out. I think that definitely an amateur can be right there."

Besides confidence, Kuehne might have something else going for him next month at Augusta. Kuehne has been friends with Masters champion Mark O'Meara for nine years, since they met taking lessons from Hank Haney in Dallas.

"From the first day that I met him, he's always been the same guy," Haney said of O'Meara. "He's taken me under his wing. He's been nothing but help to me."

FASHION NOTE

This is the 50th anniversary of the first time the green jacket was awarded to the Masters champion. Snead got it, the first of his three Masters titles.

HALE'S WAKE-UP CALL

For what it's worth, Hale Irwin led all professional golfers with $2.8 million in prize money in 1998, but he isn't even in the top 10 on the Senior PGA Tour this year.

In fact, Irwin is No. 24 with $91,333 in three events. Irwin is the defending champion at the Toshiba Senior Classic that begins today at Newport Beach Country Club.

THE EYES HAVE IT

It's obvious golf has an eye on fashion. In this case, both eyes.

When David Duval made Oakley even more money by wearing his special, wraparound shades, the golf eye-wear market was torn wide open.

Now, Oakley has vision competition. Ray-Ban and Callaway Golf are putting out a brand of sunglasses. Advertisements claim the shades actually allow a player to read the greens better. No word yet about the sunglasses actually improving ball-striking.

OR THE MILK CARTON OPEN

Most of the big names didn't play in last week's Doral-Ryder Open, which prompted the Palm Beach Post to run this headline: the Doral Missing Persons Open.

DOUBLE FIGURES

So what was Steve Elkington's victory worth at Doral (besides his $540,000 winner's check, of course)?

It was his 10th, all in the 1990s, and enabled Elkington to add his name to a select list of players who have at least 10 PGA Tour victories in the 1990s. The others are Nick Price with 15, Phil Mickelson with 13, Norman 12, O'Meara 12, Davis Love III 12 and Fred Couples 11.

It should be noted that the totals of Price and Norman include victories at the British Open before it became an official PGA Tour event (the tour counted the prize money) in 1995.

AND THEY DON'T REMEMBER

News item: Jack Nicklaus will miss the Masters for the first time since 1958 because of his hip replacement surgery six weeks ago.

Trivia: Among the top 25 players on the money list, only five were born in 1958--Jeff Sluman, Payne Stewart, Fred Funk, Craig Stadler and O'Meara.

CART HIM AWAY

Nicklaus says he might be ready to play the week before the U.S. Open, at the BellSouth Senior Classic, and hinted he might be riding a golf cart.

You would have to call that fairly heavy irony, considering Nicklaus was adamantly against Casey Martin's use of a cart. Must depend who is behind the wheel.

BIG DEAL TO FLUFF

Add, forgettable quotes: Woods wrote in his column for his Web site that "people are making a big deal out of nothing" concerning reports of a rift between him and caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan.

Six days later, Woods announced he had fired Cowan.

By the way, Woods recently bought a three-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath, 2,200-square foot townhouse in Manhattan Beach, one block from the beach. Price tag: just under $1 million.

CLOSE, BUT NO . . .

At the Tucson Open, there were no cigar vendors. Instead, the Arizona Dept. of Health Services paid the tournament $20,000 for the rights to ban the vendors and replace them with tobacco-free signage and an Ash Kicker mobile exhibit.

Brad Christensen of the ADHS said the air was noticeably cleaner, but not perfect.

"We couldn't prevent people from bringing in their own cigars," he said.

BIRDIES, BOGEYS, PARS

Franco Harris, Don Meredith, Gale Sayers, Johnny Unitas, Michael Bolton, Robert Stack, Alice Cooper, Robert Wagner, Norm Crosby and Jamie Farr are scheduled to play in the Nabisco Dinah Shore Celebrity Pro-Am March 23-24 at Mission Hills. . . . The Southern California PGA's 10th Golf Expo will be held March 26-28 at the Long Beach Convention Center. Details: (714) 776-4653. . . . White Memorial Medical Center Charitable Foundation will host a tournament March 29 at Woodland Hills Country Club. The event benefits expansion of the hospital's child-care learning center. Details: (323) 260-5739. . . . St. Mary's College will hold a charity tournament April 21 at Candlewood Country Club in Whittier. The event benefits university athletic scholarships. Details: (310) 260-8750. . . . The Toyota Golf Skills Challenge will be held April 23-25 and April 30-May 2 at Vista Valencia and Fullerton Golf Course. More than 1,800 amateurs are expected. Details: (800) 932-8337.

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