Augusta marches to beat of its own drum

By Jason SobelApril 4, 2012, 7:15 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what you think.

When it comes to membership policies at Augusta National Golf Club, it only matters what the current members think. And they aren’t keen on sharing that information.

If there’s one thing we learned during Wednesday’s annual pre-tournament interview session with Masters chairman Billy Payne, it’s that any and all discourse about internal matters at the club will remain internal until the time when – or more likely, if – he decides to publicize them.

The polarizing issue concerning Augusta National Golf Club’s all-male membership policy has once again vaulted into the forefront of discussion, based largely on a pair of long-standing traditions.

The first is that each of the last four CEOs of corporate partner IBM have been invited to become Augusta National members. The second is that the club has never granted membership to any female.

Therein lies the rub: Earlier this year, IBM announced that its newest CEO is a woman named Virginia Rometty, which means that when it comes to one of these long-standing traditions, something’s got to give.

Which will it be? Only those ambling through this course in a green jacket can answer that question, but on Wednesday it was once again made known that they will not answer such questions, repeating the sentiment during what became a contentious session with the assembled media.

The initial query followed earlier comments from Payne that Augusta National is committed to continued improvements, punctuated by the words, “Just being good is not good enough.” It offered the chairman an opportunity to address the issue directly.

Q: You began talking about a number of the changes that happened here at the course. Since you've been chairman, all of those changes have been well documented. One of the changes that has not happened to the club is the all-male membership. Wonder if you ever foresee that changing, and why or why not.

A: Well, as has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members, and that statement remains accurate and remains my statement.

Just a few minutes later, a second question about the issue was proffered, this time requesting more specific information on Rometty’s potential for future membership.

Q: Is it possible to elaborate further on why membership for Mrs. Rometty wouldn't be considered, just to give us a little more spiel on that.

A: I guess two reasons: One, we don't talk about our private deliberations. No. 2, we especially don't talk about it when a named candidate is a part of the question.

At this point in the proceedings, it was becoming eminently clear that Payne wouldn’t budge on membership talk, and certainly wouldn’t address the possibility of a female member.

That didn’t mean the questions stopped.

Q: Mr. Chairman, I note your concerns about the growth of golf around the world, and I also note that Augusta National is a very famous golf club. Don't you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club?

A: Once again, that deals with a membership issue, and I'm not going to answer it.

That’s three now, but they kept coming – and the interview session grew more tense with each follow-up.

Q: Seems like a mixed message, Billy, is what he's saying. You're throwing a lot of money into growing the game, and yet there's still a perception that certain people are excluded.

A: That is a membership issue that I'm not going to – thank you for your –

Q: It sends a wonderful message to girls around the world that they could join this emblematic golf club; it's not a membership question.

A: Thank you for your question, sir.

A few great points, a few great questions. Meanwhile, Payne continued to steadfastly hold his ground, eschewing any and all suggestions as to why females have never been granted membership, rather than using the platform as an open forum for debate.

Still, the questions kept coming, with increasing ingenuity and creativity.

Q: Mr. Chairman, as a grandfather, what would you say to granddaughters? How would you explain leading a club that does not include female membership?

A: Once again, though expressed quite artfully, I think that's a question that deals with membership, and –

Q: It's a kitchen-table, personal question.

A: Well, my conversations with my granddaughters are also personal.

Even an ensuing question about the number of questions was met with a retort that hardly addressed the current issues.

Q: Billy, kind of on that note, you talked about what a great Masters it was last year and how much anticipation there is coming into this year's Masters. I'm curious how you felt when this issue comes up again on the eve of the Masters, and do you feel it reflects negatively on either the club or the tournament?

A: I think there's certainly a difference of opinion on that, and I don't think I have formed an opinion on that. But certainly there's – people have different opinions on that subject.

There were a few more queries about other topics – the weather, the practice facility, the tournament’s Internet site – but the final exchange of the morning again efforted a response from Payne that could shed further insight into his thoughts as to why women have been excluded from membership.

Q: You said your conversations with your granddaughters are private. What would you suggest I tell my daughters?

A: I don't know your daughters.

Q: That at the most prestigious golf club in the country, they are not –

A: I have no advice for you there, sir.

With that, the meeting adjourned. Payne exited the room without remotely hinting about the future of the club’s membership policies. Meanwhile, the rest of us were left with the knowledge of something that Augusta National officials have never been bashful about when it comes to internal protocol.

It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what you think.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.