The 13 Biggest Masters Controversies
From questionable rulings to harsh punishments, a look back at the biggest controversies at Augusta National
March 31, 2015
Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer, 1958
A fading legend and a rising star played a practice round together in 1958, but after, Hogan broke standard practice by eating lunch at a different table. That tweaked Palmer, but not as much as Hogan wondering aloud, "This Palmer, how did he get in the Masters?" A chilly relationship between these two giants was born that would never go away, although Arnie certainly got the last laugh that week. Palmer beat Hogan and everyone else in the field to claim his first green jacket.
Arnold Palmer & Ken Venturi, 1958
Not that it was all smooth sailing for Palmer in 1958. During the final round, his tee shot on No. 12 plugged in the bunker. When he was denied a drop, Palmer played his ball out and made a double bogey. He then played a second ball and made par. While playing the next hole, tournament officials decided to give Palmer credit for par, something that Venturi admitted caused him to lose his concentration. In the end, Palmer claimed his first of seven majors and Venturi was left feeling like he'd been cheated. "I firmly believe that [Palmer] did wrong, and that he knows that I know he did wrong," Venturi said in his autobiography. "That is why, to this day, it has left me with an uncomfortable feeling."
Jack Whitaker, 1966
CBS has always covered the Masters and the tournament has always been strict with the network's announcers. During the 1966 telecast, Whitaker referred to the large galleries at Augusta National as a "mob scene." He was banned from covering the event for five years, but returned in 1972.
Roberto De Vicenzo, 1968
The 1968 Masters appeared to be heading to a playoff between Roberto De Vicenzo and Bob Goalby, but De Vicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard because playing partner Tommy Aaron had marked him for a par instead of a birdie on the 17th hole. As a result, the higher score stood and Goalby won his lone major championship. "What a stupid I am," De Vicenzo famously lamented after.
Ron Townsend, 1990
Townsend became Augusta National's first African-American member in September 1990. This in itself didn't cause a controversy, but it was linked to another one. Earlier that year, Shoal Creek, host of that year's PGA Championship, was under fire for not having any black members. To keep the tournament from changing venues, the club agreed to let a local businessman have an honorary membership. Effective beginning in 1991, the PGA Tour, PGA of America and USGA adopted a new rule to not hold any event at a club with discriminatory membership policies. Augusta National claimed the timing of Townsend's induction was a coincidence.
Gary McCord, 1995
Jack Whitaker wasn't the only TV broadcaster to be reprimanded by Augusta National. During the 1995 Masters, CBS' Gary McCord said the 17th green was so slick it seemed "bikini-waxed" and that there were "body bags" behind the green for players who misfired on their approaches. Two decades later, he hasn't been invited back to announce the tournament.
Fuzzy Zoeller, 1997
The popular champ became a instant villain with his infamous cringe-worthy interview in which he addressed Tiger Woods getting to host the champions dinner. "Tell him not to serve fried chicken . . . or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve," Zoeller said. The two-time major winner apologized profusely, but it wasn't enough to keep him from losing his two big sponsors, K-Mart and Dunlop.
Martha Burk, 2003
Upset with Augusta National's men-only membership policy, Burk had a public battle with chairman Hootie Johnson and led a protest just outside the club's gates at the 2003 Masters. Despite a disappointing turnout of about 40 people, the event drew national attention. Nine years later, Augusta National, under the leadership of a different chairman, Billy Payne, inducted its first two members: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore. "I thought they were going to try to outlast me," Burk told The Associated Press. "But if we had not done what we did, this would not have happened now."
Ernie Els, 2004
The Big Easy was nearly involved in a big rules controversy when he hooked his third-round tee shot into the woods on No. 11 and it ended up behind a pile of tree limbs. He was denied drop by two rules officials, but they were overruled by tournament director Will Nicholson. Els made a bogey to stay in the hunt and acknowledged after he he probably would have re-teed and made a double bogey at best had he not received the favorable ruling. So why don't we remember this as a huge deal? Because Phil Mickelson birdied the 72nd hole the next day to beat Els by a shot.
Rory McIlroy, 2009
After leaving a shot in a bunker on the 18th hole on Friday, McIlroy appeared to kick the sand in anger. He put his next shot on the green, two-putted and signed for a double bogey, but was later called back to the club that night to review the tape. McIlroy said he was simply smoothing the sand and after a debate, tournament officials ruled the same and decided not to assess a two-stroke penalty for testing the sand. That kept the 19-year-old phenom from being disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
Rickie Fowler, 2011
This time, a young golfer had a ruling go against him -- although it didn't affect the tournament. Fowler, then 22, was told to turn his hat around before conducting his pre-tournament press conference. Rickie obliged so this never turned into "Hatgate," but it was another example of Augusta National's strict conduct rules causing a debate.
Scalped tickets, 2012
This practice is always a risk at Augusta National, but never more so than at the 2012 tournament. That year, the Augusta Chronicle reported 41 people being arrested just during the three practice days for illegally selling tickets and/or disorderly conduct. Georgia state law says you can't sell within 2,700 feet of the front gate, but Masters tickets clearly indicate on the back that they aren't to be resold. If you're lucky enough to get a ticket, don't risk selling it, even for a day. As many have found out through the years, it's not worth it.
Tiger Woods, 2013
Tied for the lead on Friday, Woods got a bad break when his approach to No. 15 caromed off the pin and into the water. But things got much worse from there. Woods took an incorrect drop -- something that became apparent during a post-round interview -- and as a result, signed an incorrect scorecard. Tournament officials met Friday night and Saturday morning before deciding to assess a two-stroke penalty. They didn't disqualify Woods, though, since they had known about the possible infraction before Woods left the course and hadn't asked him about it. Woods remaining in the tournament received a mixed reaction, but he was never a real factor, shooting a pair of 70s over the weekend to finish T-4.