Originally created 02/19/03

Once upon a time a champion could remain anonymous



When the McDonald's at 3804 Washington Road closed recently, it brought to mind one of my favorite Masters Tournament-related stories.

It comes courtesy of Larry Bohannon, a retired Augusta insurance agent.

Bohannon said that every time he went into that McDonald's, he thought back on a Sunday afternoon in the 1960s when he ran into Jack Nicklaus there after a final-round of the Masters.

Bohannon doesn't remember the year; he says it had to be 1963, 1965 or 1966 - the years that Nicklaus won Masters titles in the 1960s.

At any rate, on this day, Bohannon watched at Augusta National Golf Club as Nicklaus won the green jacket. Bohannon then stayed around for the awards ceremony near the putting green.

After waiting in traffic for almost an hour, Bohannon was on Washington Road heading home when he decided to stop at McDonald's - or MAC-Donald's, as he calls it.

When he walked in, Bohannon was shocked to see the newly-crowned Masters champion standing in line with his wife and children.

What made it even more surreal was the fact no one said a word to the man who had won the Masters an hour before.

At the time, Nicklaus' children were young and no doubt asked if they could eat at McDonald's. As for Nicklaus, he was taking a break before returning to the club for the "Winner's Dinner" that night with members of the club.

After I heard this story, I always wondered why no one spoke to Nicklaus as he stood in line at McDonald's. Surely, some knew who he was and what he had just done.

Was he getting the silent treatment because they didn't want to bother him?

Or was it because he wasn't the popular figure he would become in the 1970s, when he reinvented himself? At the time, Arnold Palmer was still the king of golf - and of the Masters - and many fans resented Nicklaus, who was in the process of taking over the throne.

MORE MATCH PLAY: When it was announced recently that the Augusta Municipal Golf Course will play host to the first-ever Regions Cup match-play event May 2-4, some of the details were still being worked out.

Everything is squared away now, except the cost of the entry fee, head pro Guy Reid said. Tentatively, it will be around $75, he said.

The field will be limited to first 96 paid-entries, regardless of handicap. There will be 64 players in the regular division and 32 in the senior division.

Friday's first round will be an 18-hole stroke play qualifier for match play with a 1 p.m. shotgun start, followed by a pairings party.

For match play, the field will be broken into six, 16-player flights. There will be double rounds Saturday and Sunday for those who continue to advance (there will be no consolation matches).

That means the winner and runner-up in each flight will have played five rounds in three days.

"We have the best golf course to do that (five rounds)," Reid said. "At other ones, you just wear people out playing 36 holes. Ours is short and you can get around pretty quickly. Plus, some of the matches won't go 18 holes."

Reid considered increasing the field to 128 players, and may do so in the future.

"This being our first year, we want to make sure everything runs smoothly as possible," Reid said.

TOO LATE NOW: If the Asahi Ryokuken International Championship planned to invite teen-ager Michelle Wie to play in its LPGA Tour event in May at Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club, it's too late.

When Wie, 13, accepted a sponsor exemption last week to play in the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic in August, it gave her the maximum four sponsor exemptions allowed per year for non-tour members.

The Asahi Ryokuken International Championship was the only tournament in 2002 that extended a sponsor exemption to Wie, an eighth-grader from Honolulu. She did play in two other events after making it through qualifying. Wie missed the cut in all three events.

She could still play in the Asahi Ryokuken International if she elects to go through a qualifier.

STAYING PUT: The oversized golf ball at Forest Hills Golf Club is at least safe from the elements now.

Last week, a tarp and shrink-wrap were placed around the ball which has been at the course since 1966 and is in a state of disrepair.

"What we want to do right now is stop any further deterioration," said Kathy Hamrick, the special coordinator for academic and master planning for Augusta State. "If we tried to move it into a warehouse, we're afraid something might happen to it."

Augusta State, which leases Forest Hills Golf Club from the Georgia Board of Regents, plans to restore the ball, but has discovered the damage is extensive.

Contractors studying the ball reported that "the inside is all but gone," Hamrick said.

The lowest estimate to restore the ball is $13,000. That's much higher than the school expected.

Augusta State still plans to restore the ball, but the funds would have to be tied in with one of two projects on the drawing board: the clubhouse park that will be built near the ball and the former clubhouse; or the golf house for the Augusta State team, for which funds are still being raised.

"The earliest anything could happen (to the ball) is the summer, and that's optimistic," Hamrick said.

There is one other possibility: a donor could step forward and help with the restoration.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.