6 Biggest Masters Tournament Controversies

What did CBS’ Gary McCord say that had him removed from his Masters' announcing gig? We answer that, plus cover 5 other controversies from Masters tournament history. Who knew golf could be so dramatic?


As the world gears up for The Masters Tournament, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world of professional golf, it’s always fun to look back on previous tournaments and their outcomes.

Think golf is boring? Think again—while you may consider golf a drama-filled sport, it has had more than its fair share of controversies over the years.

While we get ready to watch the Masters go down from April 8th-11th, let’s take a look at some of the biggest controversies from the Masters.

6. 1958: Arnold Palmer’s Controversial First Masters Win

Arnold Palmer and Ken Venturi were paired together for the final hole of the 1958 Masters Tournament. Palmer was leading by one shot when they arrived at Augusta National’s par-3 12th hole.

When Palmer took his shot, it flew the green and landed in the mud. Palmer believed it was an “obvious drop without penalty”, but Arthur Lacey, the rules official at the time, disagreed, saying the ball was only “half-plugged” and ruled that Palmer play without relief.

arnold palmer on golf course with clubs

Professional golfer Arnold Palmer with his golf clubs. (AP Photo)

Palmer did as he was told and played the ball, but hit a bad chip past the hole. He finished the hole with a double bogey-5 after 2-putting. Venturi played his ball and made par, coming up in the lead.

Dissatisfied with the initial ruling, Palmer declared that he was playing a second ball, which wound up making par. Palmer and Venturi decided they would keep playing and wait for the official ruling, though Venturi believes Palmer should have played the second ball after his first one, not after Venturi had already played his.

Both men believed they were right until the 15th hole when they received the official ruling: Palmer was given a three stroke instead of five, and ultimately won the tournament. Although it’s been over 60 years since this controversial win, many golf fans are still divided over if Palmer’s second ball should have been allowed to stand or not.

5. 1968: Roberto De Vicenzo Signs Off on an Incorrect Scorecard 

At the final hole of the 1968 Masters, Bob Goalby made par and believed he was tied with Roberto De Vicenzo for the lead, thinking both players were 11-under par at the time and would be going ahead to a playoff the following Monday. Although they technically were, a scorecard error changed the outcome of the tournament.

De Vicenzo’s playing partner, Tommy Aaron, had been keeping score for De Vicenzo. On the 17th hole De Vicenzo made a birdie-3, but Aaron mistakenly wrote down the score as 4.

Not catching the mistake, De Vicenzo signed off on the card, making it his official score. Once he realized his error and brought it to the officials’ attention, they ruled that De Vicenzo had to take 4 as his final score. This mistake bumped De Vicenzo down to second place, and allowed Goalby to win the tournament.

Many fans were outraged that Goalby didn’t offer to go ahead with a playoff for the title, with some even believing that Goalby somehow messed up De Vicenzo’s scorecard on purpose so he wouldn’t win. Goalby said that nobody asked him about a playoff, and that the situation was “equally unfortunate” for both players.

4. 1994: CBS Announcer Compares Green to a Bikini Wax

During the Masters telecast in 1994, CBS’ Gary McCord remarked that the greens at Augusta were so smooth they appeared to have been “bikini waxed”. The full quote was “They don’t cut the greens here at Augusta, they use bikini wax.” He also said that mounds around the green were “body bags” for players whose shots flew the green. When Masters officials caught wind of these comments, it left a sour taste in their mouths.

“They don’t cut the greens here at Augusta, they use bikini wax.”

Shortly after, Golf World reported that McCord would not be invited to participate in the 1995 Masters. An official statement was released by CBS stating that this decision was made because the Masters were “not comfortable with his style” and felt that these jokes did not align with their values and image.

McCord still has not been involved with the Masters, but claims he has no hard feelings toward Augusta or CBS. As he told USA Today Sports, “I wouldn’t have me, either… It’s their tournament. And I agree with everything they’ve done.” 

3. 2003: Augusta’s Men-only Membership Policy Challenged

In 2002, women’s rights activist and the then-chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations Martha Burk got into an argument with Hootie Johnson, the then-chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, over Augusta’s men-only membership rule.

The argument continued for 10 months, during which Burk continued to call out Augusta for gender discrimination. Johnson eventually stated that women may be allowed to join the club one day, but “not at the point of a bayonet”, and declared that he wouldn’t let Burk intimidate him.

During the 2003 Masters tournament, Burk organized what was intended to be a large-scale protest of the men-only membership at Augusta. Instead, it amassed around 40-50 protestors, a giant inflatable pig, and some techno music a few blocks down the road from the golf club.

Many players in the tournament that year were confused why Burk was even protesting in the first place. Burk maintains that it was never about golf, it was about sexism.

In 2012, Augusta admitted its first female members: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore. In 2014, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty became the third female member, and as of today these are the only three female members of Augusta.

2. 2009: Rory McIlroy Kicks the Sand… or did he Smooth it?

rory mcilroy swing at players championship 2009

Rory McIlroy in 2009, at the 91st PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

On the 18th hole of the second round, 19-year-old Rory McIlroy hit his approach shot into a greenside bunker. After his first attempt to get the ball out of the bunker failed, McIlroy appeared to kick the sand in frustration. When the player’s ball is still in the hazard, this could be considered a 2-stroke penalty.

McIlroy finished the hole with a triple-bogey and a 73, but was called in to review footage of the incident a few hours later.

McIlroy claimed he was just smoothing the sand, which is allowed so long as the player doesn’t do anything to improve the position of the ball. The rules committee pardoned the infraction and McIlroy went on to play his first weekend in the Masters, finishing the tournament tied in 20th place.

1. 2013: Augusta Takes Responsibility for Tiger Woods’ Incorrect Drop

When Tiger Woods was on the par-5 15th hole and tied for the lead, it looked like he was going to land a short birdie butt and claim the lead. Instead, Woods’ ball landed in the water hazard.

Instead of dropping from the drop area, Woods dropped approximately two yards further back from his original spot, which many spectators claimed was an illegal drop. Woods later claimed that his reasoning for doing this was because the drop area was “really grainy” and “a little bit wet”, and wouldn’t have been a good spot to drop from. He finished the hole with a bogey and ended the round 3-under.

Unfortunately, the scorecard was already signed, so fans would have to wait and see what the official verdict was.

The following day, Woods met with the rules committee five hours before his tee time to discuss the “illegal” drop. They announced that Woods would get a 2-stroke penalty, but wouldn’t be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard unknowingly.

Spectators saw this as Augusta’s way of saving the tournament’s main attraction to protect views, and called on Woods to disqualify himself as a display of good sportsmanship. Woods ignored these calls and went on to finish the tournament 5-under, and did not make it to the playoff.

Hungry for more Masters golf? Check out our guide to betting on the 2021 Masters, for the latest odds, news & more. 

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