A Buffalo golf ball maker, OnCore Golf Technology, found itself in the middle of a controversy at the start of the Masters golf tournament last week.
The Masters was honoring Lee Elder, the first Black player to compete in the tournament in 1975, on April 8. Also present were golf legends Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. The three served as honorary starters.
Player's son Wayne stood in the background, as a caddie for his father. During the ceremony, Wayne Player prominently held a sleeve of OnCore's Vero X1 golf balls.
Wayne Player was blasted on social media, accused of trying to upstage the tribute to Elder with a marketing stunt, and news outlets picked up on the controversy. His brother Marc chimed in to agree with the critics.
OnCore's chairman and CEO, Keith Blakely, insisted the company had nothing to do with Wayne Player's actions.
"It has been unfortunate for OnCore to have its name and reputation impacted negatively as a result of 'guilt by association,'" he said. "We had no part in Wayne’s decision to display the sleeve as he did nor would we have ever instructed someone to do so.
"We hope that the reputation we’ve spent a decade developing – of being inclusive, accepting, charitable, and community-oriented - is not sullied by those unfortunate actions of Wayne," Blakely said.
Wayne Player told Golf Digest he was not attempting to upstage the tribute to Elder.
“The only thought from that point was that it would be cool for fans to know what ball my dad was teeing off with,” Player told the publication. “That’s where it ends. If I’ve hurt people’s feelings then I’m truly sorry and hope they will forgive me.”
At the heart of the controversy is the long tradition on the professional golf tour of sponsors paying handsomely to have their names and logos displayed on the bags, clothing and hats worn by tour pros. A photo or video clip that shows what type of ball a player uses can be a valuable marketing tool.
Blakely told The Buffalo News that Wayne Player is not a shareholder in OnCore, and that the company's relationship is with Gary Player. Gary Player was a three-time winner of the Masters, which is held in Augusta, Ga.
Just ahead of last year's Masters – which was shifted to November – OnCore promoted that Gary Player would be using one of its balls for his ceremonial tee off. In a statement last year, Blakely recounted how Gary Player had told him in a voicemail earlier last year: "I've never played a better ball."
Blakely said he has spoken to Wayne Player about the Masters controversy but declined to share details of the conversation.