New chairman sticks with old ways

Posted: April 05, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga. - In the grand tradition of chairmen of Augusta National Golf Club, the new boss, Billy Payne, held his first news conference yesterday.

It was, well, very traditional.

Payne, 59, best known as the ramrod of the 1996 Olympics in his hometown of Atlanta, has been heralded in the media as the man likely to lead the hidebound home to the Masters into the 21st century.

Yesterday, asked how he felt about that portrayal, Payne forced a smile and essentially dismissed it.

"Irrelevant," he said. "There are two personalities which will always define Augusta National: Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts. All the rest of us just came and went, and I'm going to fall into that latter category."

A charming Southerner with a drawl, a firm handshake, a 6.8 handicap and a can-do air, Payne faced the inevitable question about whether the club would admit its first female member during his tenure.

Again, the chairman, a former standout on the University of Georgia football team, offered a steely smile and little information.

"As I've said many times," Payne said, "all members and membership are subject to the private deliberations of the members, and other than that, sir, I'm simply not going to talk about it."

Two quick points: Isn't that a very polite way of saying "butt out, Bubba?" Also, if there is any question about how Augusta National sees itself, take note that the official transcript of Payne's news conference capitalized the words Members and Membership.

Payne did make a couple of announcements:

Beginning next year, the Masters will change its qualifications for tournament invitees, reinstating the criterion of all winners of PGA Tour events. (It had stopped that after 1999.)

Also, the top 30 money winners from the previous year will be invited, down from the top 40. The qualification of the top 10 money winners from the week before the Masters will be dropped.

Payne said not to expect major changes to the course in the next few years.

"I think we've got it about right," he said.

On the issue of the "Masters ball," Payne backed away from the hard line.

The Masters ball would be made to the club's specs to keep it from going extraordinary distances. It was a threat by Augusta National to dial back the ball on its own if the U.S. Golf Association didn't act.

"It's an option we still hold, but a little further, deeper in the back pocket," Payne said. "We've been encouraged by what appears to be the moderation of increases caused obviously by technology."

Quigley baby. Brett Quigley rushed home to Jupiter, Fla., and wife Amy in time for the birth early yesterday of their first child, daughter Lillian Sage Augusta Quigley (7 pounds, 2 ounces).

Quigley, 37, playing in his first Masters, planned to return to Augusta for today's first round.

"I've already changed two diapers, so I feel like a real veteran," he quipped. "It's going to be hard to leave, but Amy wants me to go."


Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/joelogan.

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