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.
 
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    J. Korda leads M. Jutanugarn by four in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 3:00 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand - Jessica Korda kept an eye on her younger sister while firing a 4-under 68 in the third round of the LPGA Thailand on Saturday to lead Moriya Jutanugarn by four strokes.

    A day after a course-record 62 at Siam Country Club, Korda fought back from a bogey on the front nine with five birdies to finish on 20-under 196 overall. The American was on the 18th hole when concerns over lightning suspended play for 30 minutes before play resumed.

    ''(I) was playing really well at the end of the season, but I haven't been in this (leading) position. Being back, it just takes you a little bit of time,'' said the 24-year-old Korda, who won her fifth and last title at the LPGA Malaysia in 2015.

    Her 19-year-old sister Nelly Korda (65) is eight shots off the lead.


    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


    ''I'm definitely a leaderboard watcher. I love seeing her name up there,'' said Jessica Korda, who was playing her first tournament since jaw surgery.

    Propelled by eight birdies and an eagle on the par-4 No. 14, with three bogeys, Moriya signed off with a 65 and a total of 16-under 200.

    ''Everybody has the chance to win as all the top players are here this week,'' said Moriya, who has a chance to become the first Thai winner in her home tournament.

    Australian Minjee Lee (68) is third on 15-under 201, followed by former top-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (65) on 202. Lexi Thompson (69), the 2016 champion, is a stroke further back. Michelle Wie (69) is tied for sixth.

    Brittany Lincicome was in second place after the second round, four shots behind Jessica Korda, but the American dropped down the board and is tied for ninth after a 73.

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    The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

    By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

    Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

    Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

    The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

    It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

    It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

    He is just four shots off the lead.

    “I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

    Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

    “He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

    Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

    “It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

    This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

    “I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

    Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

    When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

    “It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

    Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

    “I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

    Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

    It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

    “It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

    Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

    Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

    “He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

    Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

    “We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

    Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

    “I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

    Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

    “I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

    So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

    Woods seems in a hurry to find out.

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    List, Lovemark lead; Tiger four back at Honda

    By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 12:41 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even with a tee shot into the water for another double bogey, Tiger Woods could see the big picture in the Honda Classic.

    He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.

    Luke List delivered a round not many others found possible in such difficult conditions Friday, a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jamie Lovemark (69). They were at 3-under 137, the highest score to lead at the halfway point of the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.

    So bunched were the scores that Woods was four shots out of the lead and four shots from last place among the 76 players who made the cut at 5-over 145. More importantly, he only had 13 players in front of him.

    ''This is a difficult golf course right now,'' Woods said. ''Making pars is a good thing. I've done that, and I'm right there with a chance.''

    And he has plenty of company.


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, scratched out a 68 and was one shot out of the lead along with Webb Simpson (72), Russell Henley (70) and Rory Sabbatini (69).

    Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger each shot 72 and were in a large group at 139. They were among only 10 players remaining under par.

    Fleetwood laughed when asked the last time he was at 2 under after 36 holes and only one shot out of the lead.

    ''Maybe some junior event,'' he said. ''It's good, though. These are the toughest test in golf. Generally, one of the best players prevail at the end of weeks like this. Weeks like this challenge you to the ultimate level. Whether you shoot two 80s or you lead after two rounds, you can see what you need to do and see where your game is. Because this is as hard as it's ever going to get for you.''

    The difficulty was primarily from the wind, which blew just as hard in the morning when List shot his 66 as it did in the afternoon. More aggravating to the players are the greens, which are old and bare, firm and crusty. It's a recipe for not making many putts.

    Defending champion Rickie Fowler had six bogeys on his front nine and shot 77 to miss the cut.

    ''It's unfortunate that the greens have changed this much in a year,'' Fowler said. ''They typically get slick and quick on the weekend because they dry out, but at least there's some sort of surface. But like I said, everyone's playing the same greens.''

    It looked as though List was playing a different course when he went out with a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, added a pair of birdies on the front nine and then dropped his only shot when he caught an awkward lie in the bunker on the par-3 seventh.

    ''It's very relentless,'' List said. ''There's not really too many easy holes, but if you hit fairways and go from there, you can make a few birdies out there.''

    List and Lovemark, both Californians, have never won on the PGA Tour. This is the third time List has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead, most recently in South Korea at the CJ Cup, where he shot 76-72 on the weekend.

    ''It's kind of irrelevant because there's going to be 30 guys within a couple shots of the lead,'' List said. ''It's going to be that type of week.''

    He was exaggerating – there were 11 players within three shots of the lead.

    And there was another guy four shots behind.

    Woods brought big energy to a Friday afternoon that already was hopping before he overcame a sluggish start and holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to make the turn at 1 under for his round, and leaving him two shots out of the lead. Everyone knew it just from listening to the roars.

    Woods had his chances, twice missing birdie putts from inside 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 12, sandwiched around a 12-foot par save. His round appeared to come undone when he found the water on the 15th and made double bogey for the second straight day.

    Then, he hit out of a fairway bunker, over the water and onto the green at the dangerous 16th hole and faced a 65-foot putt. He misread the speed and the line, so badly that it was similar to a car driving from Chicago to Denver and winding up in Phoenix. A bogey dropped him to 2 over.

    The big moment was the 17th hole, 184 waters into the wind and over water. That's where Rory McIlroy made triple bogey earlier in the day that ruined his otherwise solid round of 72, leaving him seven behind. Making it even tougher for Woods is the Brandt Snedeker hit 5-iron before him to about 6 feet. Woods got to the tee and the wind died, meaning 5-iron was too much and 6-iron wouldn't clear the water.

    He went with the 5-iron.

    ''I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there because I had just too much stick,'' Wood said.

    It landed 12 feet below the hole for a birdie putt.

    Thomas made 17 pars and a double bogey when he three-putted from 6 feet on No. 16. He felt the same way as Woods.

    ''I'm in a good spot – really good spot – going into this week,'' Thomas said.

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    Woods to play with Dufner (12:10 p.m.) in third round

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 12:10 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Jason Dufner in the third round of the Honda Classic.

    Woods and Dufner, both at 1-over 141, four shots back, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday at PGA National. They’re in the 10th-to-last group.


    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    Co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark will go at 1:40 p.m.

    Some of the other late pairings include Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who will be playing together for the third consecutive day, at 1 p.m.; Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Pieters (1:10 p.m.); and Webb Simpson and Russell Henley, in the penultimate group at 1:30 p.m.