The news this week that 11 players opted out of the Memorial struck some as a diss to the tournament’s founder, Jack Nicklaus. The so-called Legend’s Slam — Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill, the Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan’s Colonial, and the Memorial — have long been considered four of the premier events on the PGA Tour calendar.
On a tour that has richly benefited from corporate America’s investment in golf, these events were a reminder of an era when pro tournaments were mainly branded by their hosts — men who were not just golfers but entertainers and singers. You didn’t go to Palm Springs every winter simply to make a check; you went to see Bob Hope give a show. You might have hated the fuss the entertainers made at the Bing Crosby, but you wouldn’t dare miss a chance to play Pebble Beach.
You showed respect for your elders, for the old-timers and their old-fashioned ways that helped build a very successful pro golf circuit that had real popular appeal. Arnold Palmer made it cool for the 1950s hipster and the war vet alike to express their manhood on the golf course. The game was fun for everybody, even the caddies. But no matter how popular it got, the old money tradition remained, and that engendered good manners.
But now the primary draw for most tournaments is big money, and the old ways are not so important to the players.
Earlier this week, Jack Nicklaus said before the start of the Memorial that in his playing days he would send a handwritten thank-you note to the sponsors after a tournament. This was his way of showing gratitude to the people who were paying the bills. The Bear learned of Tiger’s decision not to play, due to his knee injury, through Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg.
So are manners out of fashion in today’s game? I’m not sure. It may just be that the majors have become so big that players will skip almost anything to prepare for them. I hope Bay Hill and the Memorial thrive long after their founders’ deaths, but I doubt they will. Since Ben Hogan’s death in 1997, the Colonial is seen by many as just a notch or two above the Texas Open. The Byron Nelson is played on a golf course that everybody hates, but the guys continued to come every year out of respect for the old man. Now that he is dead, the tournament is struggling to attract good fields.
Good manners should have led Steve Stricker, Ben Crane, Adam Scott and Anthony Kim, among others, to make their way to Dublin, Ohio, this week for Jack’s major. They should understand that the Memorial is not about them. It’s about Jack.
(Photo: Jay LaPrete/AP)