Stay on the lawn: Masters champs should play as long as they want

Jay Busbee
·4 min read

AUGUSTA, Ga. — One of the more heartwarming moments I've seen at Augusta in quite some time happened on the first tee Thursday morning. I'm not talking about the ceremonial tee shots; those were powerful in an entirely different way. No, I'm talking about Sandy Lyle, who teed off shortly after 8:00 a.m. with his purple-and-silver windbreaker still unzipped. 

Lyle looked like he'd run straight in from the parking lot to make his tee time, and hell, he might have. At that moment, he was every don't-give-a-fig hacker who ever teed it up knowing they were headed for a rough day, so they might as well get started with this slog. Relatable, right? 

When stripped off the windbreaker, his fashion display didn't markedly improve, not with the suspenders he was wearing. But Lyle long ago stopped worrying about what he looks like out on the course; he's here to play Augusta National for a couple days for free, and if you had that chance, wouldn't you?

The Masters is unique in that it allows its former champions to play in future iterations of the tournament. U.S. Open winners get 10 years' worth of exemptions. The Open Championship permits past champions to play until they're 60, while the PGA Championship's cutoff is age 65. But if you're a former Masters champion and you can find your way up Magnolia Lane the first week of April, you'll have a couple tee times waiting for you. 

How great is that?

That's how you end up with Lyle (age 63), Larry Mize (62) and Ian Woosnam (63), among others, holding down the low edges of the leaderboard. Every year, they trudge out here, post double-digit black numbers, walk up 18 to a smattering of maybe-this-is-it applause, and they're gone before the weekend. 

Here are their statistics since 2000: 

  • Woosnam: 2 cuts made (2000, 2008), highest finish: 40 (2000)

  • Mize: 6 cuts, highest finish: T25 (2000)

  • Lyle: 6 cuts, highest finish: 37 (2004)

As you can see, we're not exactly talking about any of these cats adding another major to their resumes anytime soon. Not only that, they're out here busting out questionable fashion choices and even more questionable game play ones, like trying to swing like Bryson DeChambeau when you're in your 60s.

"I've pulled a muscle because I've tried to hit the ball a bit further," Woosnam said Wednesday in one of the most I'm-getting-too-old-for-this statements ever at Augusta. "I've strained my right groin."

I grant you, thinking about a 63-year-old man's groin is really not the most appetizing idea, but the man is a Masters champion. Show some respect.

Augusta National has, in the past, not-so-subtly hinted that certain of its more, well, seasoned champions might want to wind it up. Doug Ford won in 1957 but kept on playing in Masters for the next 40-plus years, failing to make a cut in any of the last 28. At that point, the club sent out a letter to Ford (age 78) and fellow veterans Gay Brewer (69) and Billy Casper (69), suggesting that they'd always be welcome for the Champions Dinner and Par 3 contest, but maybe don't plan on a Thursday tee time. The club also announced an age-65 cutoff, but backed off after protests from the public ... and, more importantly, notable figures like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. 

Some legends have called it quits with gas still in the tank. Nick Faldo, for instance, stopped playing at age 48, younger than Phil Mickelson is now. Tom Watson wrapped up in 2016 at age 66, while Nicklaus ended his career as a competitive player in Augusta at 65 in 2005. 

Those ages aren't too far in the future for Woosnam, Mize and Lyle ... but it's worth noting that another member of that era, Bernhard Langer, is holding up just fine, relatively speaking. He's made six cuts in the past eight Masters, even finishing in the top 10 back in 2014. 

Granted, Augusta National prizes a high level of decorum, and there can be something a bit unseemly about an old fellow slapping the ball five times to reach the distance of a DeChambeau drive. But so what? These guys earned the right to walk Augusta National for as long as they want. If it was me, they'd have to carry me off the grounds. Give up rounds at Augusta National? Not a chance. 

So swing away, Sandy and Larry and Ian. Hang in there as long as you like, Phil and Vijay Singh and Mike Weir. Keep rolling right, Freddie Couples. Everyone's going to get to where you are soon enough, even if they're not aware of it yet. 

Sandy Lyle doesn't care what you think, nor should he. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Sandy Lyle doesn't care what you think, nor should he. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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