Masters notebook: Olympics winners will be guaranteed spots in the 2017 majors _lowres

Fred Couples (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

AUGUSTA, Ga . — Golf is returning to the Olympics with this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro, and the men’s and women’s winners of those competitions will be playing for more than a gold medal.

Leaders from the Masters, the USGA, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the PGA of America announced Monday that the gold medalists in Rio will receive invitations to the 2017 majors if not otherwise qualified.

For the men’s winner, that’s the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. For the women, it’s the ANA Inspiration, the U.S. Women’s Open, British Women’s Open and Women’s PGA Championship.

“We thought it would be important and timely to come together today in a total and unanimous support for Olympic golf,” said Masters chairman Billy Payne, the chief driving force behind the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

USGA CEO Mike Davis said silver and bronze medalists in Rio will get an exception from 2017 U.S. Open local qualifying. There will be no such exemption on the women’s side since there are so many fewer entrants — about 10,000 for the men compared to about 1,500 for the women.

Golf is an Olympic sport for the first time since the 1904 St. Louis games.

Couples withdraws

Former Masters champion Fred Couples withdrew from the tournament, citing a back injury — the first time he will miss the event in 22 years.

Couples, 56, won here in 1992 and has made 31 appearances since 1983. He has 19 top-25 finishes at Augusta and 11 top-10s.

Because the Masters is an invitation-only tournament, there is no alternate to take Couples’ place. His withdrawal leaves 88 golfers in the field.

Champions dinner

Texas native Jordan Spieth ordered up a good old-fashioned Texas barbeque for the champions dinner menu Tuesday.

The dinner is held every year upstairs in the main clubhouse, just outside the champions’ locker room. The reigning champion gets to select the menu. The tradition began in 1952 with another Texan, Ben Hogan, following the first of his two Masters wins.

Even for one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, this is an extremely exclusive dinner. Only past champions (no wives or girlfriends) and Payne, as club and tournament chairman, are allowed to attend.

The champions dinner menu has included some eclectic choices over the years.

Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, the 1988 winner, served haggis. Canadian Mike Weir (2003) served wild boar and rack of elk, and Australian Adam Scott (2013) offered Moreton bay bugs — which sound hideous but really are like lobsters. If some champions aren’t feeling like having a culinary adventure, steak, chicken and fish are always on the menu.

Tiger Woods was expected to attend the dinner, even though he has said he will not play in this year’s Masters while recovering from lingering back issues.

Lagniappe

World No. 3 Rory McIlroy holed out for an ace Monday on the par-3 16th hole. … Former LSU golf coach Buddy Alexander will play in the Par-3 tournament Wednesday. Alexander won the 1986 U.S. Amateur and is invited to participate in practice rounds and the Par-3 each year. … Portions of practice-round coverage will air Tuesday from 8-10 a.m. on CBS Sports Network and will be streamed on Masters.com.

The last word

“If your name’s getting mentioned, best player, whatever comes after that, is usually pretty good. I’ve got to say it’s positive. You know, I still feel like my time’s coming. One of these days, I will get it done.”

— Dustin Johnson on the label of “best player not to win a major”