Masters: Chairman Billy Payne dodges controversies

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HE IS the chairman of Augusta National but, on this occasion, a role with the MCC seemed more appropriate. Whether it was anchoring, female members at clubs like Muirfield or Vijay Singh using a banned substance, they were all played with a straight bat by Billy Payne.

His thoughts on the first of those subjects had been keenly anticipated. If Augusta had expressed an opinion either way on the proposed ban by the R&A and USGA, that may have lent some weight to whether that is actually implemented.

“We are not a governing body,” said Payne in reply to being asked the club’s opinion on a proposal that was supported by the European Tour during a recent consultation period but opposed by both the PGA Tour and PGA of America.

“We are a golf club that puts on a tournament, so we wouldn’t be presumptuous to say that we have that kind of influence. I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to express an opinion, but we hope and believe the ruling bodies can reach common ground so that golf will continue under one set of rules.”

While the barriers have come down at Augusta – Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are among those wearing Green Jackets this week after they earned membership last year – Payne is leaving it to other clubs to make their own decision on lady members.

“We have chosen to do what we did and having Condi and Darla as members is just awesome, but I wouldn’t propose to issue an opinion for those other clubs,” he said on that one.

Singh, in the field this week as a former winner, admitted to taking deer-antler spray, which is reported to contain a banned substance, IGF-1, earlier this year and is currently under review by the PGA Tour. With no decision having been made as to whether or not he will be punished, Payne said the Fijian was “currently qualified to participate”.

In a change taking immediate effect, the top 50 and ties will make the cut this weekend instead of the top 44, while the top 30 on the PGA Tour money-list at the end of the year will no longer receive invitations.