For the first time in a long time, Wayne Player watched the Masters this year from home. It may be a new tradition, but not of his choice.
“Well, they say there’s no bad publicity,” Player says. “I found out that wasn’t quite true.” That’s because Player, son of three-time Masters champion Gary Player, is banned from Augusta National.
Player, 58, tried to follow in his father’s footsteps in professional golf and appeared in 17 PGA Tour events, but never succeeded. After his playing career, he was involved in various health and fitness activities, but he is known to most in the golf world for two recent incidents at the Masters, incidents Player would like to forget.
The first came in 2019 when Player was arrested and charged with NSF deposit/cheque account fraud resulting from renting a house for clients during the 2018 Masters. Player was embroiled in a civil lawsuit related to a Masters-related promotional package featuring a man named Todd Feltz. Feltz’s lawsuit claimed that Player acted in bad faith, caused unnecessary expense, and physically assaulted Feltz when he investigated the whereabouts of the promised Masters badges.
The second incident happened on the first tee of the 2021 Masters during the Honorary Starters ceremony. Although one of the tournament’s most cherished traditions, the 2021 gathering was particularly poignant as Lee Elder, who broke the tournament’s color barrier in 1975, was recognized for his courage and pioneering efforts. and joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to open the event. tee shots. As touching as the moment was, in the hours that followed, fans took to social media to express their frustration at the perceived actions of Wayne – who was serving as his father’s caddy – as Wayne stood behind Elder during from introducing Elder holding a box of OnCore golf balls in a brazen attempt at guerrilla marketing.
“I got probably 50 text messages after that, 40 of them saying I’m a marketing genius, 10 were like, ‘What the hell were you thinking?'” Player said in a phone call. at the end of last month. “It wasn’t premeditated, but it was a sticky thing.”
Fans weren’t the only ones to notice. According to Wayne, Augusta National took his badge away for the rest of the week and he is no longer allowed on the premises. But a year after the fallout, Player speaks on the matter for the first time to give his side of the story.
“I don’t mind letting people know,” Player says. “To be completely transparent, I think that’s a cool story because you know, the National never really came out officially and said, ‘Oh, we’re not allowing Wayne Player back at the Masters. They never said that to the media. It’s just their way. They don’t say much.
Indeed, when contacted by Golf Digest regarding the player’s ban, a spokesperson for Augusta National said the club does not comment on club business.
During an hour-long phone call, Player repeatedly admitted he was responsible for the episode. He says he didn’t mean to steal the spotlight from Elder, but understands how his actions elicited such an emotional reaction. “I understand why people took offense to it,” Player said. “Jack, the golden bear himself, said to me, ‘What are you thinking?’ I said, ‘You know, Jack, you’re right.’ You must be responsible when you are wrong.
However, Player thinks his case deserves forgiveness, especially since, according to Player, the man he upstaged has already forgiven him.
“I have Lee’s cell number. I called and said, ‘You know, Lee, I love you guys.’ You know, everyone said I was disrespectful to Elder at a special time. I said I was sorry, and I didn’t want to take his special time. And he said, ‘Wayne, you know how much I love you. To the right?’ It didn’t cross his mind. It’s important that people know. Elder died last November at the age of 87.
The rationale for Player’s decision was simple: He thought people wanted to know what kind of golf ball his father used. (Note: Wayne helped broker the business deal between his father and OnCore.) When asked if he had been reprimanded by OnCore representatives, Player said no. “They don’t want to take any position because they want to please everyone. They want conservatives, liberals, everyone. They don’t want… they don’t want [upset] anybody. Do you know what I’m saying?”
Minutes later, Player clarified, “You know, they were just like, ‘Oh, well, it was great that, you know, you could do that.’ Because usually my dad has OnCore on his bag or on his shirt or something. And he’s never had that since that first tee last year. (After the incident last year, OnCore CEO Keith Blakely said: “We did not ask or ask Mr. Player to have our ball sleeve visible during the ceremony and we are sorry if his actions caused any offense or misdirected the attention of the wonderful recognition given to Mr. Elder.”)
Player said he wrote a letter to Augusta National and Masters President Fred Ridley apologizing for what happened, expressing his love for the tournament (“Nobody likes the tournament like me,” Player says) and appealed his ban. The player said he received a response quickly.
“He said thank you but no thank you,” Player said. “He said, you know, we appreciate you reaching out and apologizing, we accept your apology, but we’re not changing our position, we’re not going to allow you back. You’ve ruined a special moment in the history of the game of golf.
The pain in Player’s voice is clear. He knows he did wrong, but also thinks the punishment was more than justified. When asked what his father thinks of the case, Player struggles to find the right words.
“He stayed out of it,” Player says. “He’s caught in the middle and doesn’t want to take sides.”
Speaking of which, watching from home provided Wayne with a unique perspective when Gary Player found himself in similar controversy for wearing a Golf Saudi logo during this year’s honorary starters ceremony. Echoing the situation he found himself in, Wayne doesn’t really see where the problem is.
“We can judge, you know, the Arab nation for the traditions they have. I mean, where women are not allowed to walk around like we know women can walk around, they have to have a cape on their head. I mean, I don’t know, it’s not for me to criticize them, you know? said the player. “I mean, look, they’re very tough on law and order, you know, and they do everything that would be considered barbaric there, right. That’s what [Phil Mickelson] basically said.
“I just know my dad was thrilled, you know, to be part of the growth of the game of golf in Saudi Arabia,” Player continues. “I mean he loves golf course design. He’s always enjoyed it. He’s designed over 170 golf clubs and he’s a statesman. He always tries to help everyone, so no one should ever criticize Gary Player.”
That’s when, speaking of this father, Player turns the question around and directs it to Magnolia Lane. The player knows his chances of getting clemency from the Masters are slim, so he felt comfortable broadcasting a jam with the club.
“If I’m being really honest it hurts me and you can print it, it hurts me that Augusta National didn’t invite my dad to be a full member of the club,” Player said. “I mean, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were invited to become full members. And we know there are a lot of criteria here, but no one has represented the game of golf better than Gary Player. Why they didn’t, it’s a shame.
Conversely, despite those feelings and his excommunication status with the tournament, Player says he hopes to one day return to Augusta National.
“It’s one of their traditions to give badges to the families of champions for the tournament. I was there for my father’s victories. The place means a lot to me. Hopefully all of this will pass.”