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:
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    Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

    By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

    PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

    Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

    Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

    “It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

    No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  


    Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

    U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


    On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

    “Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

    “Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

    A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

    “But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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    Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

    By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

    It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


    Purse: $6 million

    Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

    Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.


    Notables in the field

    Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    Henrik Stenson

    • Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

    • Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open


    Sergio Garcia

    • Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

    • Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)


    Webb Simpson

    • Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

    • 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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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.


    Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    "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.


    Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    "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.