Augusta National chairman was out of line on Tiger

Friday April 16th, 2010
Payne spoke for Augusta's entire membership.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It's not that what Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National, had to say was wrong. In his annual media address on April 7, Payne, speaking for the entire membership, was right to be "disappointed" in Tiger Woods, to lament the fall of a "hero" and to distance the club from Woods's behavior, but the finger-wagging bravado of the statement was unprecedented, unnecessary, mean-spirited and hypocritical.

To that point, someone asked Payne if he felt comfortable rhapsodizing about role models while Augusta National refuses to admit even one female member. Left unsaid was that the club didn't admit a black member until 1990, and its membership roll still contains only a handful of African-Americans. In response Payne pointed out that Augusta National has given millions to golf programs aimed at men and women and that integration was a matter for the membership to decide. Earlier Payne had expressed concern about the effect Woods's misbehavior would have on children, so maybe his aim was a vocabulary lesson: Hey, kids, this is what they call rationalization.

Where have we heard that word recently? That's right, in every one of Woods's public speeches since he emerged from therapy. Woods justified his trysts by reminding himself of the good he was doing for others: I'm providing my wife, a former nanny, with the life of a czarina; I love my kids; I give out millions every year through my foundation. Sound familiar? Is it O.K. to do wrong in one part of your life if you're doing enough good in another? Just asking.

On that subject, should the separate parts of a person's or organization's existence be judged individually or do they reflect on each other? Can we judge Tiger the golfer without judging the man? When it comes to its own failings, Augusta has argued that the Masters and the club are separate entities and that the club's policies don't reflect on the tournament. Hmm.

If moral arbiter is now part of Augusta's mission, why haven't we heard similar condemnations of other Masters miscreants? Where was Payne to scold the bankers who drove our country to the edge of ruin through reckless and immoral if not illegal activities? Oh, that's right, he was teeing off with their colleagues.

Augusta's membership reportedly includes several executives of ExxonMobil, which in the past decade has been sued for dumping radioactive material, overcharging its distributors and refusing to clean up toxic waste. Are there no mirrors in Augusta's oak-paneled clubhouse? Will there be at least a ceremonial tongue-lashing for other golfers who've had extramarital affairs but were lucky enough to have done so before the tabloids discovered sports?

How about this? Let's agree that Augusta National will never again be measured by the beauty of its course but by the sincerity of its effort to change. I hope Billy and friends realize that every kid they pass wants to play in their tournament, but would settle for their green jacket.

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