By Ann Liguori
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Augusta National chairman Billy Payne touched on a number of topics Wednesday — including the absence of Tiger Woods — during his annual address on the eve of the Masters.
Here are the highlights:
— “We miss Tiger, as does the entire golf world,” Payne said when asked how it feels not to have Tiger at the Masters this year. “What I like best about Tiger is, no matter where he is on a specific day, he is such a competitor. He is always a threat to make a run and do well and win here at Augusta National.”
Payne continued: “I’ve told him in person many times that he could putt these greens blindfolded; he knows the course that well. So we miss him very much.”
— When asked if the club put in any different procedures and policies in regard to how they handle rule issues (based on Tiger’s controversial drop on the 15th hole last year in the second round, in which he was later assessed a two-stroke penalty the next morning), Payne replied:
“Well, as you all know, and as I’ve said three times in my remarks, in a multitude of areas, we try to get better every year. Whether its rules, whether it’s parking, traffic, we review all of those every year. The issue that you’re addressing, I think that we made the right decision. I believe that the golf world has affirmed that. I know that some of you disagree with the decision. Nevertheless, I think it’s important that we communicate quickly with people, if we have a serious matter under deliberation, and we’re going to do that.”
— When asked if the club gave any consideration to assigning a walking official with each group, Payne said “we have approximately 60 officials on the course, significantly more than any other tournament. We think we do it pretty good with the familiarity they acquire for the specific holes; some with as many as six officials on it.”
— Payne also commented on the necessity to remove the famed Eisenhower Tree, which stood approximately 210 yards from the Masters tee on the 17th hole, because of the damage the plus 100-year-old tree suffered during February’s ice storm.
Payne confessed that at the time that it happened, he was in the Bahamas bone fishing.
“I received the emergency call, got back as fast as I could. We received a multitude of opinions from some great arborists and botanists all over the country, frankly … and when there was unanimity that it was not salvageable, we made the decision to take it down.”
— Payne also announced that the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship for kids, held for the first time at Augusta National this past Sunday, will expand to more than 250 qualifying venues in all 50 states, giving more than 50,000 kids the opportunity to compete.
“It was one of the most powerful days of my life,” said Payne. “I was trying to make comparisons in my – think about how I had been impacted like that before, and I can only go back to, I used to ask my mother, ‘How will I know when I meet my wife?’ And she would always say, ‘Well, you’ll know. You’ll know.’ And Saturday night at the banquet preceding the Sunday competition, I knew. I knew that there was something very special in these kids and their families and the excitement and anticipation which they had for competing here the next day. They responded so wonderfully.”
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