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Rick Reilly
March 26, 1990
Jodie Mudd, that is, and he won The Players Championship at Sawgrass
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March 26, 1990

His Name Is Mudd

Jodie Mudd, that is, and he won The Players Championship at Sawgrass

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And Beman calls The Players Championship a major? A major disappointment, maybe. Without the best foreign players, this was Hartford with palm trees. "All it is now," says Hughes Norton, agent for Curtis Strange and Greg Norman, "is the U.S. Tour players championship." Or a union meeting at nine-minute intervals.

Golf and its fans are being cheated because the Tour players can't see over their stacks of tax-free bonds. Foreigners must play 15 Tour events a year to keep their U.S. cards. Without a card, they are allowed to play only five. In addition, they can play the three U.S.-based majors—the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA—because the majors are not controlled by the PGA Tour, plus the World Series of Golf, if they qualify. Beman tried to persuade the players to lower the minimum to 12, but the players were opposed to his proposal and voted it down. Basically the players on the bottom half of the money list don't want foreigners knocking them out of the last entry spots and onto the Ben Hogan minor league tour.

In 1949, Bobby Locke, the great South African golfer, was banned from the U.S. tour for not having complied with some rule or another. Gene Sarazen, for one, was outraged. He called it "the most disgraceful action by any golf organization in the past 30 years." Locke was reinstated.

What does your average American player think? "Look," says Leonard Thompson, the grinder's grinder. "We don't mind the foreigners coming to our Tour. We do want to play the best. But 'why shouldn't we all play by the same rules? It would have been like giving Roberto Clemente four strikes just because he was a foreigner."

If something doesn't happen soon, golf's Zeus, Mark McCormack, may actually do what people have been suggesting he would do someday—invent a "world" tour that stars the globe's 30 best players and enough money to redecorate South America. Then where would Joe Sansabelt be?

Watson has an idea. Give any foreign player who's not a member of the Tour one extra exemption per year for every major championship he has won. Faldo, for example, would get two additional exemptions—seven total. Ballesteros would get five—10 in all. Under Watson's plan you would have the best foreign players competing in the States, but you wouldn't have a mad rush of foreigners flooding the fields. And the sport would get what it deserves—the best against the best—more often.

The world has been knocking down walls lately, but golf keeps putting them up. Beman knows. He admitted last week that he had proposed allowing the foreign players a sixth exemption—to The Players Championship—but the tournament policy board, which represents the players, squashed the idea. So Beman remains a commissioner who's not in charge of his sport's premier events. "It would be like Paul Tagliabue having nothing to do with the Super Bowl," says Norton. "He's frustrated as hell."

Even Beman's money list doesn't reflect what's going on in golf. Paul Azinger was the leader; now Calcavecchia is. But Strange and Norman weren't around for much of the early season. They both skipped most of the West Coast swing, opting for huge appearance fees in Australia.

"How much does Azinger have?" Strange asked when he got back.

"Uh, $390,000," he was told.

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