Jack Nicklaus says he will vote for indicted former President Donald Trump again, Netflix star Brooks Koepka leads

Jack Nicklaus says he will vote for indicted former President Donald Trump again, Netflix star Brooks Koepka leads

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland each shot 7-under 65s at the first round of the Masters, but neither Rahm, a recent World No. 1 who four-putted the first hole for double bogey, nor Hovland, an ebullient, rising young star, made as much noise as LIV Golf ambassador Brooks Koepka.

Koepka — a 32-year-old, four-time major winner with a linebacker’s physique and movie-star looks — always was LIV’s greatest hope for legitimacy and attention. Phil Mickelson made the biggest splash with his controversial defection from the PGA Tour to LIV, and Cam Smith was the hottest player on the planet when he left, but Brooksie was the total package.

And then he showed his sensitive side.

The second episode of “Full Swing” dropped Feb. 15, and Koepka’s frosted hair and self-reflection in an era of touchy-feely he-men made him an instant social-media icon. The Netflix docuseries offered a peek behind the curtain of the life of a professional golfers, and viewers connected with Koepka in particular, as he battled back from injury and a crisis of confidence. They also became immersed in his relationship with then-fianceé Jena Sims, the B-movie actress he married in June.

Koepka is a bristly competitor, a plain speaker who fosters conflict and feuds, so he was pleased that people saw a softer side of him.

“I think it was good to see. People probably don’t think I’m as open as what I really am. I’ll tell you exactly how I’m feeling at the time, how I’m feeling in the moment,” he said. “I’m pretty vulnerable away from the golf course. I’ve always said what you see on the golf course isn’t what you get behind closed doors. Hopefully, people were able to take that from it.”

LIV handlers must have been be rocking the Casbah on Thursday night.

The biggest stories of the week at the 87th edition of the tournament involved: Tiger Woods’ quest to win again after nearly losing his right leg in a 2021 car crash, and how the 18 players from the renegade tour would fare in the first Masters since LIV began poaching PGA Tour talent last summer.

So far, so good.

Koepka’s round featured the efficient golf that helped him win LIV’s latest event, which finished Sunday in Orlando and made him the favorite among the 18 LIV players in the 88-man field. Smith was the No. 2 LIV-er, tied for 16th at 2-under. Mickelson posted at 1-under, tied for 25th. Kevin Na withdrew due to illness after nine holes, but 15 of the 17 remaining LIV-ers were at 2-over or better, which gave them a good shot to make the cut.

As it often does, Koepka’s relevance spawned controversy.

His caddie, Ricky Elliott, rather clearly mouths the word “five” to Gary Woodland’s caddie, Brennan Little, after Koepka hit his approach shot to the par-5 15th hole. Telling an opponent which club you hit is illegal. The tournament’s Competition Committee investigated; that is, they asked Elliott and the group if that’s what happened. They were told it didn’t happen, so the committee took no action.

“We looked at it when we got back in,” Koepka said. “GW [Woodland] and Butchie [Little] had no idea what we were hitting. I know that fact because GW asked me what we hit walking off [the 15th green].”

Woodland birdied the hole and finished at 4-under, tied for sixth with defending champion Scottie Scheffler, Texas A&M amateur Sam Bennett, and five others.

Golden Bear tarnished

Jack Nicklaus, the all-time leader with 18 major golf titles, seems to have a major blind spot: Donald Trump.

Nicklaus was a staunch supporter of Trump both in his successful presidential run in 2016 and in his failed campaign in 2020 — an election in which Nicklaus encouraged folks to vote for Trump on Twitter and whose results Trump continues to reject, even as he prepares to run again in 2024.

Trump’s 2016 campaign resulted in an indictment last week in New York for felony bookkeeping fraud in relation to paying hush money to an adult actress, and, as the nation looked on, Trump on Tuesday became the first American president to be arraigned.

Trump’s 2020 campaign could result in another indictment, in Georgia, for trying to overturn that state’s results of the election. He also could be charged by the Justice Department for his role in allegedly illegally removing government documents; for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol; and for pressuring government officials to not certify the 2020 election results.

Asked Thursday if he would again vote for Trump in 2024, Nicklaus replied:

“Depends on who is running, doesn’t it? Well, we’ll have to see what happens. You know, I’ve always supported who I thought was the best candidate. I think Donald Trump was the last time.”

Best candidate?

Trump, a serial bankruptcy claimant as a businessman who had no experience in any office, in 2016 defeated former first lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, then in 2020 lost to former U.S. Senator and Vice President Joe Biden.

Best candidate?

“Whether Donald will be this time or not, I don’t know,” Nicklaus continued. “We’ll wait and see.”

Nicklaus is a legend at Augusta. He has won a record six Masters tournaments and is one of just three players to win consecutively, in 1965 and 1966. Augusta National is his happy place.

As such, while wearing his green jacket after hitting the ceremonial first tee shot with Tom Watson and Gary Player to start the 87th edition of the tournament, he spoke fondly of the most controversial and divisive character in U.S. history with utter, disturbing aplomb.

Player: Hater?

Serial self-promoter and frequent malcontent Gary Player, a three-time winner here, complained last week to The Times of London that Augusta National treats him poorly.

“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. It’s terribly, terribly sad,” Player whinged. “If it wasn’t for the players [like him] it [the course] would just be another golf course in Georgia. … I helped make this tournament what it is.”

» READ MORE: Can Tiger Woods contend at the Masters? No. Can he make the cut again? Depends.

Player, 87, believed he stood above Augusta National’s rules for play for nonmembers and nonparticipants. After a couple of days in the company of the membership, Player’s stance had softened. Asked what “life lesson” playing at the Masters imparted, Player’s tone changed from huffy to humble.

“Gratitude,” he replied. “To have the opportunity to play in a tournament of this stature. I think the word is gratitude. Particularly for me. This is my 65th appearance here, and you walk on the first tee and you say, well, this might be the last one.”

Especially if you humiliate the members and degrade the most iconic course on the planet.

This content was originally published here.

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