New York: It has been 50 years since Arnold Palmer won the last of his four Masters titles and he is amazed at what he sees in the modern game.
Speaking Tuesday ahead of the 78th edition of golf`s most prestigious tournament, the 84-year-old living legend said that he was "very impressed" by the top players.
"I`ve been watching these young guys and it`s amazing how they hit the golf ball, how well they play," he said.
"I`ve never ceased to be pleased and surprised to see the physical conditioning that these young people are coming with -- to see their ability, to see how they play the game."
Just one small thing jars with him -- their nervousness and inability to get the job done when faced with close-range putts, something he worked long and hard to master.
"I watch them sometimes when they are playing recently, and I see some of the shots they play, and I must say that I`m a little disappointed in some of the finishes I`ve seen," he said.
"Now, we see some of the things that are happening and they make the long putts and they do things, and that`s great. I still stick with them that they are great players and they are doing very, very well.
"On the other side of it, like one of my old mentors used to say when I was playing tournament golf as an amateur, and he would say, `Okay, Arnie,` he says, `I see you`re out there practicing that 20?foot putt all day.`
"He says, `You`d better get that thing up around the hole to around three or four feet or five feet and be knocking it in.
"And I remember how I used to dump the balls out pretty close to the hole, five or six feet, and practice it.
"And when I see some of these guys miss some of these little putts, I think if I were telling that guy what to do, I would tell him to get that shag bag out there and get about a 5- or 6-footer and start knocking it in the hole."
On the subject of world number one Tiger Woods, absent at Augusta National this week following back surgery, and whether he would ever match or better the record 18 major titles won by his great friend and rival Jack Nicklaus, Palmer was ambivalent.
Firstly, Woods needed to stay healthy physically, he said, and then there were mental factors to be taken into account also.
"There is a drawback that relates to the psychological aspects of the game and the fact that you`ve won and you`ve won the tournaments that you were working to win," he said.
"He`s going to have to overcome that. He`s going to have to overcome the fact that he won as much as he did (so early) and he`s going to have to refresh that in his mind and his psychological approach to the game.
"If he can do that, I see no reason in the world why he can`t come back and be as good a player as he ever was."
Finally, Palmer was asked how long he would continue to step forward and hit the ceremonial Masters opening tee shot which he has done with Nicklaus and Gary Player for the last few years and which he will do again just after dawn on Thursday.
He replied: "You know, I have no idea. I think the chairman (of Augusta National, Billy Payne) makes that decision, and if he wants me to hit that first tee shot and I have to crawl that`s what I`ll do."
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