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Soft speak vs. big stick

National | Let this be a lesson in diplomacy for feminist Martha Burk.

Issue: "War inside the red zone," April 12, 2003

Let this be a lesson in diplomacy for feminist Martha Burk. When Ms. Burk derided Augusta National Golf Club's admission policies in front of every microphone and reporter within reach, the club that hosts the Masters tournament blew off her attacks and stood strong on its all-male policy.

But when two influential members of the Augusta club spoke privately to Augusta Chairman Hootie Johnson with their own gripe, Augusta National performed an about-face. Of course, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus carry a lot of weight.

In a private conversation with Mr. Johnson, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Nicklaus convinced the club to scrap its policy of banning former champions from playing in the Masters after they turn 65. The policy was to start in 2004. Said Mr. Johnson after the conversation with the two legends: "We will count on our champions to know when their playing careers at the Masters have come to an end."

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The change to end what some former champions had called age discrimination comes at a time when Ms. Burk has publicly chastised the club for barring women. But she took a different approach than did the former Masters winners. She went on a media blitz to try and pressure Augusta National into a change, even calling on Tiger Woods to boycott the Masters. But her efforts have yielded no fruit. And just like negotiating the greens at Augusta, force is no substitute for touch.

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