Ken Venturi didn't mean to call Arnold Palmer a cheater, 46 years after the fact. But that's how it came off when an excerpt from Venturi's new book, Getting Up and Down: My 60 Years in Golf, was released, detailing a widely reported incident involving Palmer at the 1958 Masters.
In a statement this week, Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open champion and former CBS golf analyst, apologized for any misunderstanding. He said Palmer played a second ball incorrectly. "This does not make Arnold Palmer a cheat," Venturi said.
Still, Venturi's story differs from the one told by Palmer countless times.
During the final round of the 1958 Masters, Palmer hit his approach over the green at Augusta National's par-3 12th hole. The ball plugged in its own pitch mark. Rules official Arthur Lacey was on the scene and told Palmer he could not take a drop. Palmer protested, saying a local rule in effect that week should have allowed him to lift the ball and drop it as close as possible, no nearer the hole.
"That's exactly the way we'd been playing all week," Palmer wrote in his book, Playing By the Rules. Lacey didn't see it that way, which prompted Palmer to say he was going to play two balls and appeal to the tournament committee.
Venturi, who was paired with Palmer and just a stroke behind at the time, disputes that. He said then and he says now that Palmer only chose to play a second ball after he made double bogey on the hole.
"I firmly believe that he did wrong and that he knows he did wrong," Venturi says in the excerpt.
Palmer played the embedded ball and made a 5. He then returned to the spot, dropped, pitched up to the hole and made a par 3. Venturi said he told Palmer at the time he couldn't do that.
"You have to declare a second ball before you hit your first one," Venturi said he told Palmer. "Suppose you had chipped in with the other ball? Would you still be playing a second?"
Palmer insisted he had informed Lacey he would play two balls. The 5 went on his scorecard until the committee could review the circumstances. The score then was changed to 3 after Palmer teed off at the 15th and forever became part of Masters lore.
There was no television coverage of the 12th hole at the time, and Lacey is deceased. So whom do you believe? The fact that the tournament committee signed off on the change makes it a moot point.
Palmer went on to win his first major championship by one stroke over Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins and by two over Venturi, who suffered heartbreak at the Masters in '56, '58 and '60.
Venturi wrote in his book that he never got over the incident. But because of his job with CBS and the network's association with the Masters, he never wanted to make a big deal out of it. Venturi retired in 2002.
As for the timing? Venturi's book is due out Wednesday, the day before Palmer's Bay Hill Invitational begins and just three weeks before he plays in his 50th consecutive Masters.
NO FLORIDA: For the third straight year, the LPGA Tour kicks off its season with nary a full-field event in Florida, even though tour headquarters is in Daytona Beach and a slew of LPGA players live in the state. Other than the season-ending ADT Championship in West Palm Beach, limited to the top 30 money winners, the tour does not visit the Sunshine State.
"It's always something that we're working on and looking at," said LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw. "It's a question of trying to find the right market, the right time of year, and the right sponsor that can sustain itself for a long period of time. ... We don't want to put an event in Florida and then be geographically isolated from other events. If we are going to do any, we'd prefer to do two rather than one."
Votaw said he wants the tour to return to Florida, but wants to make sure it is a solid event played at the right time. And having more than one tournament would make them both stronger. The tour likes the idea of taking January off, so playing in February or March is difficult - the Champions Tour and PGA Tour have all but cornered the market at those times.
The LPGA has taken a less-is-more approach in recent seasons. There are 24 full-field events this year, 33 total. "Our attendance is up, our fan base is growing," Votaw said. "We have more of our top players in these events."
The tour last visited Florida for full-field events in January 2001 when it went to Orlando, Naples and Miami.
LOCALLY: Mangrove Bay in St. Petersburg is having its 19th Annual Club Day on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Manufacturers such as Titleist, Cobra, Callaway, Ping, Wilson and Nike will be on hand. The event will feature an exhibition by Brian Nash, a member of the Pinnacle Distance Team. The exhibition begins at 1 p.m. For more information, call (727) 893-7800. ... The Futures Tour, the LPGA's developmental tour, visits the area March 26-28 at East Lake Woodlands Golf Club in Oldsmar. There will be 144 players competing for a $65,000 purse. The Next Generation Futures Golf Classic was played in Tampa last year at Rogers Park.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.