— Sports

At the Masters, past champions are welcomed back to field

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – Fred Couples was playing a practice round at Augusta National this week, with the other members of his foursome all sharing a few things in common.

None of them were even half his age.

  • They all bombed their tee shots past his.
  • And they listened to every piece of advice he had.
  • “Well, I’m old,” Couples said.

Among the many perks that come with winning the Masters is this: Champions are invited back for life, which means it isn’t uncommon to see players compete into their 60s and even 70s at Augusta National. 12 players in this year’s Masters field wouldn’t have otherwise qualified had it not been for that lifetime pass they got for winning years ago.

Bernhard Langer was 63 when he cut last fall, becoming the oldest ever to play the weekend at the Masters. The 1985 and 1993 champion is back this year, as are fellow 63-year-olds Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam, 62-year-old Larry Mize, and Couples – a 61-year-old who went gray long ago and doesn’t precisely overpower with length off the tee anymore.

He played Monday with Xander Schauffele, Max Homa, and Patrick Cantlay. If they were hitting 9-iron into some greens, Couples was hitting a 6-iron.

Based on the results, Couples – the 1992 Masters champion – wasn’t exactly at a disadvantage.

“We beat up on Xander and Max,” Cantlay said. “Not surprisingly, Fred birdied 16 and 18. We had a great time.”

The Masters embraces history like few other sporting events, pays respectful tribute to players and winners from the past, and is one reason why Couples are still held in such high regard.

Mize – the 1987 winner – will play in his 38th consecutive Masters, Lyle in his 37th; only six of the tournament’s storied history have had longer streaks. Lyle, whose Masters win came in 1988, will become the 12th player to play in 40 Masters. Langer is playing his 38th, Couples in his 36th.

There are no delusions. They aren’t here expecting to have defending champion Dustin Johnson slip a green jacket over their shoulders in Butler Cabin early Sunday evening.

They’re here to play 36, maybe 72 holes if everything goes right. They’re here to see old friends and make new ones. They’re here to see the azaleas, tell stories at the Champions dinner, and hear those cheers echoing around one of golf’s most hallowed grounds again.

“I don’t think there’s still a chance of winning, obviously,” said 1994 and 1999 Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal, 55. “There is not that chance, but it’s always fantastic to be back here. This is an extraordinary place for anybody that has won here, and that’s what really brings us here. The Champions dinner on Tuesday, seeing the site again, the flowers, the good weather this year. So, there’s a lot of reasons why we should be coming here.

Molly Aronson

Molly Aronson is a 26-year-old government politician who enjoys bowling, running and jigsaw puzzles. She is creative and exciting, but can also be very greedy and a bit greedy.She is an australian Christian who defines herself as straight. She has a post-graduate degree in philosophy, politics and economics. She is allergic to grasshoppers.

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