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Billy Payne on Arnie, mobiles and azaleas

Billy Payne

Billy Payne, the Augusta National chairman, addressed the media today ahead of the Masters kicking off tomorrow and faced a media keen to get a flavour of how Augusta National will pay tribute to the late Arnold Palmer during tomorrow’s ceremonial opening tee shots.

The Georgia native, 69, said all patrons who come through the gates in the morning will be given an Arnie’s Army badge to wear, as a way of remembering the iconic golfing figure, who passed away in September last year, just five months after opting not to hit a shot at last year’s ceremony.

“I think tomorrow will no doubt be an emotional goodbye, but at the same time, an even more powerful thank you to the man we dearly love,” said Payne, who was joined in the room by members of his committee.

The Augusta National chairman also added that the mild weather has caused the azaleas to bloom three weeks early, something he’s not too happy about.

“That premature bloom,” he said, “combined with recent consecutive hard freezes, has diminished our otherwise beautiful and traditional coloring. So this year, we have decided that our color of choice is green, Augusta Green, and I hope you will agree that it is both abundant and beautiful.”

With the Open Championship now leading the way in terms of allowing the spectator to become fully interacted in a technological sense, Payne wasn’t about to suggest that Augusta National was joining the tech race.

Asked about allowing mobile phones onto the grounds, he was unequivocal in his reply.

“You’ll have to ask the next chairman. That’s not going to change while I’m chairman.”

And he didn’t want to explain his reasoning much further.

“I just don’t think it's appropriate, and the noise is an irritation to not only players, the dialing, the conversation, it’s a distraction and that’s the way we’ve chosen to deal with it.”

He also body-swerved a fairly painful attempt by one journalist to trip him up over golf’s awkward relationship with President Trump.

“I am not fully aware of anything that our President may have said controversial about the game of golf,” said Payne. “I’m not the one to judge, whatever, how his other remarks may have some influence on the game of golf, which is where my interest level resides exclusively.”

Payne also said there would be more women invited to join the club, but wouldn’t give names before informing the parties of the club’s invite. “There will be more in the future, certainly.”

On the subject of a tournament ball to be used at the Masters, Payne said he didn’t think it would happen and that he trusted the USGA and R&A to work together to forge a solution that meant it didn’t need to happen.

“We have great confidence in their ability to forge a solution,” he said. “But, of course, as you would imagine, we always reserve the right to do whatever we have to do to preserve the integrity of our golf course. But I don’t think (introducing a tournament ball) will ever happen.” Ironically, just earlier he had talked about the land acquired by the club in recent years that had given opportunity for certain holes to be extended. That, of course, shouldn’t need to happen if the USGA and R&A do their jobs. Payne, though, said all options were “under review”.

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