At first it needed to be confirmed weary eyes weren’t playing tricks on me in the late hours of Thursday night. But a quick check on Twitter confirmed what could not even be dreamed of.
As Lee Elder was so deservingly honoured as part of the ceremonial tee shot at Augusta National, some guerilla marketing was taking place.
Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the first tee to open the 85th Masters, and despite not being able to physically hit a tee shot due to his health continued to spread his message: “The game of golf belongs to everyone”.
The ceremony brought the likes of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson – who held back tears – and Cameron Champ to the tee to watch on, in a display of far more than just lip service.
The latter is one of the many African American golfers to benefit from the struggles and horrible treatment Elder and his fellow black players endured to make the game a more diverse and welcoming place.
The issue in such a significant moment was Player’s son and caddie, Wayne, holding a sleeve of golf balls for clear display to every camera shot when Elder was announced to the tee. He even maintained a vice like grip on the box while applauding.
"A truly international player, a winner of our own Open five-times, the Masters three times and outspoken on everything from bunker play to butter, Player is an icon of the game. Hopefully as such, he will make a statement to apologise to Elder quickly."
Clearly this was nothing but a marketing ploy to push the products of one of the ‘Black Knight’s’ many sponsors given Player had the ball he was to hit in his pocket, and given it was not a competitive event, even the worst drive wasn’t going to require a provisional.
(Eagle-eyed fans noticed the list of sponsors now includes Golf Saudi. An involvement from one of the game’s greats that is uncomfortable to say the least.)
Golfers are of course independent contractors, branded in logos for many products (see Bryson DeChambeau) to make a buck. And I certainly am not deriding any golfer for doing so.
But the actions of the younger Player are beyond reproach and even forced his golf ball sponsor to issue a statement distancing themselves from any involvement in what could only be called a stunt.
Official Statement from OnCore Golf CEO pic.twitter.com/JAY0CMqMWR— OnCore Golf (@OnCoreGolf) April 8, 2021
The Masters is a wonderful event, “A tradition unlike any other” as Augusta National likes to say. It is at the top of the tree of golf tournaments personally, and yet much of this is due to the historic club’s efforts to cultivate and create it.
The tournament itself started far later than the other majors. The course was a huge effort of construction to create an in-land links of sorts. But for all that has been created, the ceremonial tee shot is one of the most wholesome parts of the week, for mine.
Like almost every other member of the media fortunate enough to cover the Masters, being by the first tee for the occasion was on the bucket list my first time there. Even hardened Augusta veterans from the press room with more gripes than good things to say will park under the Oak tree to watch on.
Player is so very deserving of his place in the annual moment.
A truly international player, a winner of our own Open five-times, the Masters three times and outspoken on everything from bunker play to butter, Player is an icon of the game. Hopefully as such, he will make a statement to apologise to Elder quickly. And his son will be removed from any caddying opportunities in the future.
But from social media comments from those who have a deeper knowledge of the man, it wouldn’t be wise to hold your breath in anticipation.