Golfers who were born outside of the United States are now the norm, not the exception, at the Masters Tournament.
In 2016, 49 of the 89 golfers who started were international players. The foreign-born players have outnumbered the Americans since 2007.
Changes in qualifications — the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking earn invitations — have brought more of an international flair. Last year was a prime example of the international power: nine of the 14 players who finished at the top, led by winner Danny Willett of England, were from foreign countries.
In 1961, though, 73 of the 88 starters were Americans. And Arnold Palmer, the defending champion at Augusta National Golf Club, was their leader.
Gary Player, of South Africa, was the leading money winner on the professional tour through the first three months of the season, but Palmer was getting all the attention heading into the year’s first major.
Palmer picked up where he left off the year before by shooting 68 to share the opening-round lead with Bob Rosburg. A 69 in the second round kept Palmer at the top, but he had to share it with Player.
Player took control with 69 in the third round to open a four-shot lead over Palmer, but he had to wait an extra day as heavy rain washed out Sunday’s play.
Finishing Monday, Palmer made a charge and seized the lead on the back nine after Player found trouble on the par-5s. The South African made a double bogey at the 13th and a bogey at the 15th to surrender his lead.
Palmer came to the 18th hole with a one-shot edge, but he played a little too nonchalantly and pushed his approach into the greenside bunker. He bladed his third shot across the green, then chipped back long.
Facing a 15-footer to save bogey and force a playoff, Palmer missed.
“It was certainly a disappointment. I made a very bad mistake in the process of playing the 18th hole,” Palmer said. “It was something I was taught not to do. I knew better, but my mind was kind of reeling and I made a mistake.”
Player became the first foreign player to wear the green coat.
“It was a very important thing because it gave encouragement for many to follow suit,” Player said. “There’s an international player who can do it. It was really not the desire then to play around the world.”
Article courtesy of The Augusta Chronicle.