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Payne's legacy extends beyond Augusta National

By Rex HoggardAugust 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

In May 2006, Billy Payne didn’t sound like a trailblazer, which should be no surprise given he’d just been named Augusta National Golf Club’s sixth chairman.

Change historically comes slowly at the home of the Masters, a place where electronic scoreboards and mobile devices are still not welcome, and the incoming chairman struck a predictably subtle tone in his first meeting with the media, despite a resume that would suggest a more forward-thinking leadership style.

“First and foremost, to preserve the great traditions of this golf course, those traditions which make it so special, those elements of this club and this tournament which make it one of most popular sporting venues in the world,” he said in ’06 when asked his goals as chairman.

But Payne did offer a glimpse into a tenure that would turn out to be more cutting edge than conventional, saying he wanted, “to embrace in every respect changes which continue to make, as they have in the past, this course during the Masters prove itself to be one of the great courses of the world.”



More than a decade later, those changes have stretched far behind the club’s pristine fairways.

Augusta National announced on Wednesday that Payne will retire as club chairman on October 16 after 11 eventful years at the helm, and will be replaced by longtime competition committee chairman Fred Ridley.

Time will be the true judge of Payne’s legacy as chairman, but his body of work paints a picture of a leader who brought the club into the 21st century while honoring those traditions that make the Masters one of the game’s most revered events.

While inside the ropes, the venerable course maintains its appearance it’s what has transpired away from the manicured fairways that will define Payne’s time. (Although in that maiden news conference Payne did address expanded tee boxes at Nos. 11 and 15 and he was regularly asked about any pending alterations.)

While neither Payne nor the club went looking to become a standard-bearer to grow the game, it’s a role both embraced. In 2009, Payne created the Asia-Pacific Amateur and announced that the winner would receive an invitation to play the Masters. Now-world No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama won twice and benefited from the exemption. In 2015, that coveted perk was extended to the winner of the Latin America Amateur, another Payne brainchild.

“We do believe that the ultimate prize of a Masters invitation will inspire kids to take up this game, and through time, dramatically increase interest and participation in golf in the region,” Payne said in ’09.

Payne and the club, along with the USGA and PGA of America, also took a leadership role in 2013 with the introduction of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, a nationwide junior golf competition that culminates on the Sunday before the start of Masters week at Augusta National.

In retrospect, all of these initiatives stand as quantifiable progress in golf’s ongoing effort to grow the game, both in the United States and abroad.

For many casual golf fans, Augusta National may mark the pinnacle of the golf season but at a place that declines to comment on “membership matters” and functions in a virtual vacuum for 51 weeks a year, taking on such a public leadership role was not a universal priority.

In many ways Payne – whose leadership style was born from his time as president and CEO of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic committee – was both a consensus builder and an autocrat, a leader who understood the challenges the game faced and Augusta National’s unique position as a conduit for change. That he was willing to use that influence was, quite simply, an act of leadership.

Following years of criticism, Payne also oversaw the addition of the club’s first female members in 2012 when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore were invited to join.

“This is a joyous occasion,” Payne said at the time.

During Payne’s tenure, the club completed the purchase of a massive parcel of land on the other side of Berckmans Road, rerouted that thoroughfare and built a state-of-the-art entertainment complex called Berckmans Place.

At this year’s Masters, the club unveiled a sprawling new media center and recently completed a purchase of a parcel of land from Augusta Country Club adjacent the 13th tee. All of these changes have since been applauded and the subtle modernization continues.

The only true measure of any leader is how the organization, be it a business or the game’s most high-profile club, has evolved and grown while they were in charge.

 In the case of Payne, Augusta National is better, the Masters is better, but most importantly the game is better.

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament.


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"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to GolfChannel.com that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.


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Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.