AUGUSTA, Ga. — You know about the Asian-Pacific Amateur (which resulted in an eighth-grader playing in this year's event), the new spiffy driving range and parking facilities and corporate hospitality area. You now also know what they say in Vegas: Never stop a man when he's on a roll. On Wednesday he announced that, starting this year, the low 50 scores, plus ties, will play on the weekend, instead of the old 44 number (although with the 10-shot rule still in effect, it's unlikely that weekend field-size will change very much.)
Payne also announced that "win and you're in" will apply to the PGA Tour's fall events after the conclusion of the FedEx cup, events that are now part of the newly configured 2013-'14 season. That policy will be a significant boost for the prestige of those events. Or more accurately, had the winners of those events not received automatic invitations to the Masters, those events would have looked like second-class citizens, tournament-wise.
To accommodate more automatic spots, Payne, in his wisdom, has reduced the number of invitations going to good finishes in the U.S. Open and the Masters. Now the top-4 and ties from the U.S. Open get in, instead of the top-8, and the top-12 and ties from the Masters gets an invite back, instead of the top-16. Payne does nothing rash and these are considered smart moves.
Last year, Payne was visibly flustered when he was confronted with a series of questions about why there were no women members at his club. This year, the session was placid. Payne didn't say much about the proposed anchored-putting ban, except to say that he hoped that golf's various ruling bodies "can reach a common ground so that golf will continue under one set of rules." Given the club's historic ties to Bobby Jones, and by extension the USGA, and given that Payne himself does not use a long putter and that you'd be hard-pressed to find one in the Augusta National pro shop, it is incomprehensible that Augusta National will do anything but support the USGA's ban on anchored putting.
On Payne's watch, Augusta National has become more international, less old-boy, less Southern, more high-tech and an ever-bigger business. He has expanded the TV coverage, he has lectured Tiger Woods, and he has moved the scalpers away from Magnolia Lane. His pursuit, he said on Wednesday, is "perfection." You could debate all day whether the pursuit of perfection is a healthy way to lead a life, but for Payne that's his life's MO.
Golf, to many, is more about misses than perfection, and what Payne cannot control is the weather on Thursday (afternoon thunderstorms predicted), and whether Tiger will gag Sunday on a short putt on 11. The greatness of the tournament is the tournament, but what Payne has shown admirable commitment to doing is being the most effective stage manager he can be. The lack of women at the club was a historic wrong, but more than that, it was a distraction. On Wednesday, Payne said a whole lot of not much. He spent his offseason doing one significant thing: He invited Darla and Condi to come in from the cold. For the cost of a first-class letter (or however he sent them their invitations), he made the place way more inviting for members and guests and fans and writers and last year's champ.
Whether or not Bubba Watson will get a plaque on No. 10 where he played his historic shot last year is under advisement, Payne said. You don't rush this guy.
"As you can imagine, just about every single guest who has been here since that day has dropped a ball in the woods attempting to duplicate that shot. Our opinion is unchanged: It is impossible."
Somebody did something impossible. You can't plan for that. From here through Sunday's dusk, the chairman goes back behind the curtain and the players take over, as they should. Press conference over. Game on.