Sunday, April 6

Players will try to keep focus on golf



AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Davis Love III has a plan for this year's Masters that begins as he drives through the gates of Augusta National and down Magnolia Lane.

Davis Love III
Davis Love III's opinion of the Augusta controversy is one shared by many other pros: Once inside the gates, it's all about golf.

At that moment, he pretends there is no controversy.

''I'm talking about playing golf this week,'' he said.

If only it was that easy.

The Masters begins Thursday, clouded by the issue of no woman members at Augusta National and the threat of protests outside one of golf's most hallowed courses.

Players preparing for the first major championship of the year were also preparing for outside distractions that have nothing to do with the speed of the greens or the modifications to the fifth hole.

They'll do their best to ignore them, judging from an informal survey by The Associated Press of about 18 players in the weeks before The Masters.

Among other things, players were asked their opinion of women membership at Augusta, whether the issue will taint this Masters and how they will handle any controversy once they get to the tournament.

While many players -- including Tiger Woods -- were in favor of women membership, they also said that as a private club, Augusta National had the right to invite whomever it wanted.

No golfer who spoke to The AP said he considered boycotting the event as a show of support.

''I don't think it would do any good for any player to boycott The Masters,'' Nick Price said.

''I'd like to see a woman member. I'd like to see a lot of them,'' Jeff Sluman said.

Asked how he would show his support for a woman member, Sluman said:

''I just did.''

To be sure, the war in Iraq has overshadowed a great many causes and concerns, and this one is no different.

''I just feel there are more important issues in the world right now than getting particular members in certain clubs,'' Ernie Els said.

A sampling of other comments:

  • ''It's become not just about a golf tournament anymore. It used to be the first major of the year, and everyone looked forward to that. Now, it's not that anymore, for a number of reasons.''
    -- Tiger Woods.

  • ''I don't want anything to be a distraction. I'm there to play golf.''
    -- Mike Weir.

  • ''Once you step inside Augusta National, you can't worry about what's going on outside the arena. If you do, you'll probably play horrendously.''
    -- Jeff Sluman.

  • ''I have a vested interest in women being treated fairly and I don't think this is an important women's issue.''
    -- Scott Verplank, father of two daughters.

  • ''I sit on the fence. I think they should have a woman member, they should have the right to do what they want. And you have the right to express your opinion.''
    -- Jim Furyk.

  • ''All the peripheral stuff is going to detract a lot from the tournament. It's bad. Maybe Thursday, everything will be forgotten and we'll be on our way. But we're getting away from golf, and that's sad.''
    -- Nick Price.

  • ''I just think there are a lot more issues out there that can help a lot more women and be beneficial to a lot more women than just letting a lady member in Augusta.''
    -- Scott Hoch.

  • ''We don't have a say in what happens. Our only voice to effect any type of change is skipping the golf tournament, and that's not going to happen. The only time it would matter is if Tiger skipped it. That's the only way it would change. And I think that's entirely unfair to ask that of him, to have people put pressure on him to do that.''
    -- David Duval.

  • ''I'm excited as hell to play and it won't bother me one single bit.''
    -- Rich Beem.

  • ''If they host a world event and people have big-time problems with the membership, then they shouldn't go. For the last 50 years or so, to my knowledge, they've been going.''
    -- Len Mattiace.

  • ''The Masters will be The Masters inside the gates. All that stuff is going to be in the newspapers, on television. But when we get inside the gates, it's going to be golf.''
    -- Davis Love III.

    Annika Sorenstam will be in Augusta on Wednesday to accept an award at the Golf Writers Association of America's annual dinner. She plans to leave as soon as she can because she wants nothing to do with the controversy.

    ''I want to get out of there. That's not something I like to be a part of,'' she said. ''I think it's bad for the game of golf. I hope we can find a solution to it and move on.''






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