House of Payne

By Steve EubanksApril 3, 2007, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: The following is a special feature courtesy LINKS Magazine
For nearly a decade, William Porter Billy Payne ran the planning of the worlds most inclusive event. More than 10,000 athletes from nearly 200 countries competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, which took place largely through the efforts of Payne, who decided one day that his home city should host the Olympics and didnt stop until his vision became reality.
Now, Payne is just getting comfortable in the office that has presided over one of the most exclusive clubs in the world for 74 years. On the brink of his first Masters as chairman of both the tournament and the Augusta National Golf Club, it appears Payne is bringing a bit of his old job to his current post.
Augusta National's Chairmen

Clifford Roberts (1933'77)

Bill Lane (1977'80)

Hord Hardin (1980'91)

Jack Stephens (1991'98)

Hootie Johnson (1998'06)

Billy Payne (2006-)

The new chairman has said he wants to bring more fun to the club; he takes phone calls, asks about your family and is receptive to granting interviews and posing for photo shoots'signals that Augustas iron curtain may be drawing open a bit.
During the shoot, Payne is relaxed and comfortable, setting a casual tone to a process that often can be difficult. Lets leave the coat unbottoned, he tells the photographer, Fred Vuich, as they stand on the 15th fairway. Vuich has no problems coaxing a natural smile out of Payne, who had been photographed more often than any incoming chairman'and no doubt more than all of them combined.
After a while, Payne, who took his post in May 2006, notices the grounds crew working on the green and strolls over to chat with Brad Owen, the course superintendent. Vuich continues to click away as Payne greets the staff and discusses the course with Owen. At the end of the photo shoot, Payne thanks Vuich and says, See you at the Masters, Fred.
Despite Paynes openness, nobody expects the clubhouse to be painted mauve; this is still Augusta National, after all, and Payne, speaking on the record, still espouses tradition. The only thing different about me is that, with the exception of Mr. [Clifford] Roberts, Im younger than anyone who has become chairman, he says. I grew up at a different time. But at the same time, I have great admiration and respect for those who came before me.
Even when offering such a textbook response, Payne chuckles, letting you know that he is in on the joke. He means it, sure, but he says what he knows will end up looking good in print. You know it; he knows it. And he doesnt mind sharing a laugh about it, an epic departure from the past.
Hootie Johnson was a syrupy South Carolinian who was in many ways a caricature of everything old school'even before his hard-line stance against Martha Burk and the issue of female members. Jack Stephens was a nice guy who never said much of anything. And Roberts, the original czar of Augusta, spoke in such a stilted monotone his listeners thought they were going to die of boredom or old age before he finished.
His predecessors were comfortable revealing little; the 59-year-old Payne, on the other had, is one part salesman and two parts cheerleader. He was a real estate lawyer when he formed the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, and as ACOGs president and CEO, Payne worked tirelessly in the public eye, traveling around the world to build consensus among leaders and dignitaries, ultimately convincing the International Olympic Committee to pick Atlanta over sentimental favorite Athens for the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics.
In addition to his people skills, the key to Paynes success is his work ethic. He works as long as it takes to get the job done, a lesson he learned from his father. Payne was the child of children; Porter and Mary Payne were only 17 when Billy was born. While Porter was on the University of Georgia football team, the coaching staff helped keep the Paynes above water. Head coach Wally Butts bounced young Billy on his knee as he slipped Porter a key to the athletic dining room for a little grocery shopping in the pantry. Backfield coach Bill Hartman gave the Paynes his old refrigerator so they could keep Billys milk cold.
In later years, Porter would share those stories with his son, saying, Billy, there never was a horse that couldnt be rode or a rider that couldnt be throwed. If youre not smarter than a lot of people or a better athlete than somebody, you can always outwork em.
Payne loves recounting those years, saying, I think its obvious what motivates me. For decades, he has gotten up at 4 a.m. for cardio training and weightlifting despite two heart surgeries. Im still an early riser, he says. But Id be lying if I said I worked as late as I used to.
Like his father, Payne played football at Georgia, earning All-SEC honors. I always called Billy my 60-minute player, his coach, Vince Dooley, says. Back when you didnt specialize like today, you had certain players that you wanted in the game all the time: offense, defense and special teams. That was the kind of player Billy was.
Even in college, Payne showed considerable leadership and diplomatic skills. We had a player named Jake Scott who was a challenge to manage, Dooley says. Right before I was going to suspend him, the seniors, under Billys leadership, came to me and said, Coach, we dont like Jake, and dont like what he did. But we want to win the championship, and we need him. So please give him one more chance.
No matter the issue, Payne brings an enthusiasm and energy that border on evangelical. Im a firm believer that if you embrace a dream that is founded in goodness and then you get wonderful and compassionate people to share that dream, that anything is possible, he says.
In 1997 Payne and his wife, Martha, founded the John F. Beard Award (named after Marthas father), a $25,000 annual gift to a graduating medical student from the Medical College of Georgia. He still gives impassioned speeches about the work of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, which gave him a Distinguished Service award. And he is a recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the NCAAs highest individual honor, given to a former college athlete who has set the bar for high ideals and outstanding character.
Lifes greatest rewards are reserved for those who bring joy to the lives of others, Payne says.
Early in his tenure, Payne is beginning to figure out which rewards he will bring to Augusta National and the Masters. In some ways, he is a pioneer: He is the first Georgia resident and the first chairman never to have met Roberts. (Payne became a member in 1997.) But he still considers upholding the traditions of the club to be an important part of his new role. He has yet to answer questions about female members, and has provided few glimpses into the future of the Masters.
Although speaking in general terms for the most part, Payne has begun to address specific issues. For one, he wants to bring back automatic Masters invitations for winners of PGA TOUR events the previous year, a qualifying criterion that was eliminated in 1999. At the same time, he wants to keep the starting field manageable'no more than 100 or so.
Payne, who owns a 6.8 Handicap Index, also has strong feelings about the course. I was as happy as anyone when, in this past Masters under generally good weather conditions and not withstanding the criticism we had before the tournament, we had virtually universal acclaim afterward, he says. While [the course] was extremely difficult, it was fair. Im very comfortable that last year was a good test. And Im comforted by the fact that the rate of increase in distances is slowing down. The indication to me would be that while this could rear its head again as a critical issue, it is coming to a point where our course is in a position to remain competitive unless we get surprised by some other advance. But we take nothing off the table. We will do whatever is necessary to preserve the competitive integrity of this course.
At the same time, Payne looks to the past for guidance on how to run Augusta National and the Masters.
We are not arrogant enough to think that there are not ways we can improve, and better serve our patrons and spectators, he says. Our great objective is to help spread the enjoyment of the game of golf. We believe that the more people who are attracted to the Masters, either in person, through our broadcast partners or through utilization of new media, the more they will correspondingly be attracted to the game of golf. Thats a mission we take very seriously.
How much enjoyment one man can inject into Augusta and the Masters remains to be seen, but if anyone can lighten the tone of the place, it is Billy Payne. After all, this is a man who got former IOC Chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch, who liked to be called Your Excellency, and Atlanta ex-mayor Bill Campbell, later convicted of bribery and corruption, to hold hands and do the right thing.
With that kind of diplomatic resum, theres no better candidate to run a club thats as famous and fickle as Augusta National Golf Club.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Masters Tournament
  • LINKS Magazine
  • Getty Images

    Teenager Im wins season opener

    By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

    South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

    Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

    Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

    Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

    Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

    Getty Images

    Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

    He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

    12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

    Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

    11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

    At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

    11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

    Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

    1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

    Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

    Getty Images

    Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

    By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

    HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

    It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

    Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

    It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

    ''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

    The reward now?

    ''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

    He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

    During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

    ''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

    Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

    ''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

    During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

    ''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

    It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

    Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

    And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

    It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

    ''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

    Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

    And not the Masters.

    He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

    ''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

    There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

    Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

    ''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

    He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

    ''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

    He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

    ''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

    Except for that first week in April.

    Getty Images

    The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

    By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

    The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

    All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

    By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

    Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

    As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

    While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

    Yeah, you heard that right.

    “I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

    Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

    Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

    Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

    You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

    As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

    Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

    Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

    A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

    Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

    With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

    First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

    “I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

    Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

    We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

    The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

    These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

    Here's two more just for good measure.

    Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

    Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

    Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

    Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

    Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

    Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

    But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

    We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

    Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

    PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

    Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.