Augusta's decision to add female members long overdue, but worthy of celebration nonetheless

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

Poor Sergio Garcia. On the day he wins in the U.S. for the first time in four years, he finds out Condi Rice got a green jacket before he did.

What a day in golf. Augusta National, as you may have heard 1,000 times by now, admitted the first two female members in its club history. In other news, ANGC is planning on replacing its rotary phones for new-fangled, push-button types.

I covered the 2002 Masters when Martha Burk tried to light a fire under Hootie Johnson and shame him into admitting women members. At the time, I remember writing in the San Francisco Chronicle that, as odious and outdated as Augusta National’s male-only policy might be – especially for a club that casts such a public shadow every April – it was the club’s call, as a private organization, on membership.

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Ten years after Martha Burk’s protest at Augusta, the club finally decided to admit female members. (AFP)

 

Like most people who are late to civil rights parties through the decades – those who cautioned against women’s votes or repealing Jim Crow – I regret not being more forceful in pestering Augusta National to admit a woman. Clearly, when the club announced Rice and South Carolina banker Darla Moore as members today – first reported by the Associated Press – it felt like society improved, even if just a little.

The old arguments from back then -- that adding rich and well-connected women to a rich and well-connected club is hardly the stuff of Rosa Parks – remain true. But the arguments by those who supported the admittance of a woman are truer. It IS an important symbol that a woman who achieves success and, just as important for Augusta National’s place in the game, loves golf, doesn’t find any locked doors in the game.

Martha Burk gets a head-nod here. She went it alone for a good while in 2002, trying and failing to motivate crowds to gather at Augusta National to protest the exclusionary tactics of the green jackets. It took a decade for her wish to come true, and like most pioneers, she had to do a lot of brush-cutting to clear the trail. At times, her voice seemed feckless. Augusta National and the Masters were going to keep holding the Masters, keep logging gangbusters TV ratings, and keep doing things their way.

So when Burk told the AP today, “Oh my God, we won,” the words weren’t hollow. Heck, she deserved the delayed gratification if only for withstanding the embarrassing day back in 2002 outside the gates when her planned protest turned into a Monty Python episode, including Elvis impersonators, a guy holding a sign that read “IRON MY SHIRT” and a self-proclaimed Klansman who wore only a t-shirt and jeans. I will never forget the story of the late, great Boston Herald sportswriter George Kimball, who sized up the Klansman’s gear head-to-toe, and asked: “So . . . you gonna suit up?”

Billy Payne, the club chairman, deserves an ounce of credit here. He’s made mistakes, surely. His bashing of Tiger Woods three years ago was clunky and ham-fisted in its execution, especially since Augusta National was hardly a beacon of tolerance. And his awkward sparring with the media this past spring over the issue again came off as tone-deaf. But he changed, and made the move to invite Rice and Moore. He gets points for that.

[Dan Wetzel:  Augusta National admitting two women is less than it appears]

Ultimately, will Augusta National’s invitation feed the hungry, build shelter for the homeless or clothe the poor? Hardly. As some have suggested – including esteemed colleague Dan Wetzel on this very site – the club remains a distant and exclusionary place, detached from the real world. But even if one little girl who loves golf sees Condi Rice or Darla Moore in her green jacket next spring on TV, and if that helps her think of golf as that much more of an inclusionary game, and grows the game just a little, then the symbolism works.

Meanwhile, Sergio is still wondering how he gets one of those.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

67-63-66-66 – 18-under 262, Sergio Garcia, winner, Wyndham Championship, Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro, N.C.

How very Sergio. The player formerly known as El Nino had become El Disappear-o on this side of the Atlantic. He had no top-10s in the U.S. since Riviera in February, and added to his fading reputation by missing the cuts at both the British Open and PGA Championship.

So, of course, he put on a ball-striking display amid the raindrops in North Carolina. He overcame a Sunday delay into Monday, polished off a final-round 66 and nabbed the kind of victory that makes you wonder why he isn’t in the mix more often.

[Related: Sergio Garcia wins Wyndham Championship, puts Ryder Cup debate to rest]

Motivation may be the answer. In a year in which he petulantly told the media that he will never win a major, acting as if he couldn’t play the game, he suddenly felt the heat of perhaps missing out on the European Ryder Cup team. For a player whose best efforts have always come at Ryder Cups, that was an untenable thought. So, naturally, he dialed up a win. He can be like that.

And truth be told, things have been better for Garcia in his home continent of Europe. He logged top-5s at the Nordea Masters and Qatar Masters this year, plus a 5th-place finish at the Volvo Match Play. Even better, he won twice in Europe last year – back-to-backs in October of 2011 at the Castello Masters and Andalucia Masters -- a fact he was quick to point out to us thick-headed Yanks in his CBS interview with David Feherty.

“Obviously, I won a couple of times in Europe last year,” he said, with the very obvious subtext: Hey, gringo. Life exists outside your American borders. Take a peek outside it sometime.

The good news for Sergio is, he made it. His win at Greensboro secured him a spot on Jose Maria Olazabal’s squad for the Sept. 28-30 Europe-U.S. showdown at Medinah.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

“Right now we’re going to break away from our coverage of the final round and go to Rich Lerner at The Golf Channel Studios in Orlando … “ – Bill Macatee, The Golf Channel, interrupting Garcia’s run to victory for the big news.

“…today is an important day in the game of golf. The Associated Press has reported, and Augusta National Golf Club has confirmed that for the very first time in their history, there will be female members at Augusta National Golf Club …” – Rich Lerner, The Golf Channel, assuring that Garcia will not have the headlines.

The great Dan Jenkins likes to make fun of a perceived poutiness from Garcia often on Twitter, creating a recurring persona in the space of 140 characters that ends pleas with the cry: “Why me? Why Sergio?”

The news of Monday played right into the wheelhouse of any golf comic looking to riff on Sergio’s woe-is-me attitudes. On the day of his first triumph Stateside since the Players Championship in 2008, Garcia gets told to get in the back seat of the moving vehicle known as breaking news.

I’ll save Jenkins the trouble of logging on and ask: How could the news makers do this to Sergio?

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

Speaking of Masters invites, I’m glad Fresno, California product and Cal-Berkeley senior Michael Weaver is likely to get one. He needs something to salve his pain, after watching the prestigious U.S. Amateur title slip through his fingertips on Sunday in the final match at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado.

First, huge congratulations to Steven Fox, the U.S. Amateur champion. The guy is golf’s “Rocky”, advancing to the 64-man field only after surviving a 17-player playoff, then winning the Amateur as the 63rd seed in the field, highest ever to triumph. As U.S. Amateur champion, Fox, who will be a senior at Tennessee-Chattanooga, will play in the 2013 U.S. Open and British Open, which beats spending summers watching “SportsCenter” and hearing from your Mom: “Have you read the want-ads today yet, Steven?”

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Michael Weaver let the U.S. Amateur Championship slip through his fingers. (Getty)

 

But poor Weaver. He was 2-up, with two to play and had the title, if only he could make a 5-foot putt on the 36th hole. Instead, it hit the back of the cup and stayed out. The match was extended to the 37th hole, where Fox won it. Traditionally, the Masters invites the two Amateur finalists, so at least Weaver gets some peach cobbler and a parking pass down Magnolia Lane. Not bad consolation.

Weaver himself was a story. As the 60th seed in the field, he defeated five top 50-ranked amateurs to get to the final, then built that final lead with a 34th-hole birdie before the missed putt that could have won it.

“That’s golf,” Weaver said of the missed 5-footer.

It is, Michael. And you know what else it is? It’s a chance for us to come in, place that ball back out on the 18th green at Cherry Hills, remind Weaver that 60 inches ain’t no thing, that he’s made 5-footers all his life, and that, oh by the way, he can be U.S. Amateur champion and . . . give that man a mulligan!

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Hey, everybody, it’s the FedEx Cup playoffs! Everybody? Everybody? Did I lose you guys?

Listen, it’s great that a bunch of dynamite players will be at Bethpage Black this week for the Barclays, an excellent field gathering in late August. This is the glory of the FedEx Cup playoffs; that they’ve kept top players interested after the PGA Championship is over.

But, as I gazed upon the FedEx Cup standings, and saw that Tiger Woods had finished the “regular season” as points champion, I couldn’t help but think how the title was as hollow as a cheap chocolate Easter Bunny, the kind you bite into and get 95 percent air.

Can’t you just see Tiger entering the Bethpage players locker room, striding past Masters champ Bubba Watson, U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, British Open champ Ernie Els and PGA Championship champ Rory McIlroy and barking: “Make way for the king! FedEx Cup regular season points leader in the house!”

Nah, me neither. I’ll have fun watching this week, though.

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