Eamon Lynch: Gary Player heads up the early-week Masters complaint department

Gary Player suggests his contributions at Augusta National have made the Masters what it is.

Gary Player suggests his contributions at Augusta National have made the Masters what it is.

Gary Player has enjoyed his share of MVP moments at the Masters – you may even have heard him mention them on occasion – but his most welcome contribution might come Tuesday evening, when the garrulous 87-year-old can be relied upon to fill any awkward silences at the Champions Dinner, which is likely to include six LIV Golf players but even more of their critics.

What the Most Voluble Player will actually say is another matter. He’s outspoken on every topic, from distance to despots, several of whom have hired him over the years and one of whom still lists Player as an ambassador for the Golf Saudi sportswashing front, despite the nine-time major winner’s sometimes harsh words on LIV. Alternatively, the old legend might elaborate on his recent comments about how unwelcome he feels at Augusta National and how he is reduced to beseeching members if he wants to bring a foursome to a private club that he’s not a member of.

“After all I’ve contributed to the tournament and been an ambassador for them, I can’t go and have a practice round there with my three grandchildren without having to beg a member to play with us,” he said to the Times of London. “And there’s always some excuse. It’s terribly, terribly sad.”

“I helped make this tournament what it is,” he added, with customary humility. Player apparently doesn’t think the tournament is all that, even with his contributions. In another salvo, he ranked the Masters fourth among majors (a defensible position, but one unlikely to make green jackets more receptive to his hosting requests).

Player’s grumbling won’t surprise Augusta National’s evasive members, who are presumably weary of lectures about everything from their improper weight to his pristine bowel movements. He is well-known as an insufferable braggart whose ceaseless self-promotion makes Donald Trump appear downright modest by comparison. To borrow Jimmy Breslin’s rapier twist on Rudolph Giuliani, Player is a small man in search of a balcony.

While he is the most persistent bellyacher rolling down Magnolia Lane this week, he is not the only one.

Bryson DeChambeau has bemoaned Tiger Woods cutting off contact since the pseudoscientist decamped to LIV, not even acknowledging a birthday text message. Bubba Watson insisted there’s no bad blood between players and that any suggestion of such is media mischief, ignoring the fact that LIV has been scattering subpoenas like confetti at one of Greg Norman’s weddings. Joaquin Niemann clearly wasn’t cc’d on Bubba’s memo. He said LIV guys are motivated to perform because of the “hate” directed toward them by other players, a comment that illustrates how quickly the rot sets in when a man orbits Sergio Garcia.

It’s a feast of sniping and griping, but the Player spectacle is veering toward undignified.

Since the blush of youth, he has been determined to write his own obituary, his every breath spent extolling his own virtues. It’s a trait that can amuse some, but surely tests the forbearance of others.

While his contemporaries Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were welcomed as fully-fledged members at Augusta National, Player remains an honorary member, a status conferred on all past Masters champions. If the club was hesitant to extend full privileges to a three-time winner, events have justified the caution.

Two years ago, his shiftless son Wayne sullied a first-tee tribute to Lee Elder, positioning a sleeve of golf balls he was pimping at just head height behind the wheelchair-bound honoree, right in the camera line. A couple years prior he was embroiled in an escapade over the selling of Masters access. Wayne is now unwelcome at the club, an exclusion that even the most ardent advocate for inclusion can cheer.

The son’s antics would have caused many a father stay home for the shame of it. This father has many attributes—not least his commendable charity work—but a sense of shame isn’t among them. Both his life story and career record show Player is a man not easily deterred, while his words show one not easily embarrassed. How else to explain the mix of narcissism and petulance underpinning his crack that Augusta National would be “just another golf course in Georgia” without guys like him?

It’s quite possible Player will be contrite by the time he takes the dais with Nicklaus and Tom Watson for a Thursday morning press conference after the ceremonial tee shots, waxing lyrical about what the tournament, the club and its members mean to him, and how honored he is to be involved. It’s also possible that he might double down. Such are the risks inherent when the Masters venerates past champions, a peril not just confined to a Tuesday’s private dinner. It must make some in officialdom wonder how long the tournament should continue platforming a man seemingly unable to filter his grievances, real or imagined.

If Player is being truthful—there’s no reason to think he isn’t—and really doesn’t feel welcome at Augusta National, there is an obvious solution. Lee Trevino felt similarly for many years. He stays home, and sometimes did so even in his competitive prime. But then, there’s neither a microphone nor an audience posted by the barcalounger at Player’s home, and one suspects the wounded old lion would see that as an even more intolerable situation.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Gary Player, LIV golfers, start Masters week off with some ill-time griping

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