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April 4, 2007
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Good afternoon, and welcome once again to the 2007 Masters Tournament. First, I want to say congratulations to the honorees of the inaugural Masters Major Achievement Award which we presented an hour or so ago, and to say once again, their contributions to the Masters have truly been instrumental to our success, and it was our sincere honor and privilege to salute them.
After many years here on the stage, I am obviously not accustomed to sitting here in this middle seat, but I promise, today and always, to do my very best to meet the example of integrity, honor, and respect set by my predecessors.
First I would like to make mention of two very special past champions. As we all know, this year marks Gary Player's 50th Masters, and we congratulate him on this remarkable milestone.
And I would also like to remember and reflect on the remarkable career and life of Byron Nelson. No finer gentleman ever played the game of golf, and he will be sorely missed.
With me today is Fred Ridley, known to you all, and the new Chairman of our Rules and Competition Committees, we are proud to have Fred on our team.
To my left, the new Chairman of our Media Committee, Craig Heatley from New Zealand. Craig, I'm certain, will do an exemplary job, because given my history with the Media Committee, he knows how important it is to me.
And those of you who have struggled with my slow southern drawl for these last six years are really in for a treat now. (Laughter).
Finally, before we begin, I would like to announce qualification changes for the 2008 Masters Tournament. While a specific press release will be available for you immediately following this press conference, I am very, very pleased to announce the return of the automatic invitation for PGA TOUR winners. This invitation will apply for all regular season and playoff events that award at least a full point allocation towards the season-ending TOUR Championship and will be in effect from the Masters to the following Masters. Accordingly, qualification, automatic qualification for the 2008 Masters, will begin next week at the tournament in Hilton Head.
Other qualification changes include: Going back to the Top 30 on the final Official Tour Money List from the current 40; adding those qualifying for the previous year's TOUR Championship; and removing the Top 10 on the Money List pre-Masters.
We believe that the combination of these changes will result in a strong field, and yet permit us to continue the intimate competition envisioned by our founders, Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts. We have applied these new 2008 qualifications over the last five years, and I can report that the field size over those years would have been on average one or two players larger.
Now, Craig, if you wouldn't mind, I'm ready for the first question.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Questions, please.
Q. Since taking office last May, what duty you've performed has given you the most pleasure and what's the biggest surprise that's come your way?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think the greatest pleasure in my very short tenure as chairman and notwithstanding the responsibilities of chairman, is that I still have been permitted to do what all that we members do at Augusta, and that is enjoy great golf among friends at truly one of the world's great golf courses.
In terms of surprises, I guess my biggest surprise would be something I learned last night at my first Champions dinner, and I can't talk about it. (Laughter).
Q. Most people around the world would have a vision of the Masters as a place that does not change but, in fact, evolve constantly; can you speak to that, about how the tournament stays current, and with the changes like you're making now?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think we stay current by being students of the game; by being diligent and aware of the circumstances of the game; the increasing, incredible skills of the golfers; and we have determined, many of my predecessors before me, that we would do whatever it took to keep this course competitive to face the challenge of those increasing skills. It's something that we've done historically. I think we've done it well and we're going to continue to do it in the future.
Q. And it's not just the course, but the rules, entrant requirements and things like that.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Obviously what's most important here is to identify the best players in the world and yet to conduct the tournament with the intimacy that the Masters is famous for. And that, of course, requires that we revisit our qualification standards very frequently; in fact, every year.
Q. Do you foresee any changes to the golf course configuration in the near future and would anything have to happen this week to cause that to happen sooner?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: You know, as I reflect back last year when very significant changes were made, and those that preceded it in '98 and 2002, I was very proud of the way that the course was able to identify the best golfer and that linked with not necessarily the only component of one's game that made them competitive. I think last year demonstrated that conclusively. I think the order of finish demonstrated that conclusively. I think that we've got it about right.
So I would not anticipate substantive changes in the near future, but I would have to caveat that by saying that we certainly measure flight and roll distance, and will be always aware of the quality of the challenge that the golf course presents to these great players.
Q. Could you talk about what led you to your decision about the qualifications changes and particularly the PGA TOUR winners?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I cannot take credit for that. That's something my predecessor was thinking about and talking about, encouraged me to take a hard look at. And, you know, he was preaching to the choir.
I can remember innumerable times where winners of tournament events would be more excited to hear that they had automatically qualified for the Masters than to receive the first prize money check. So it was an exciting component of golf that really only the Masters could offer, and we all thought it appropriate that we bring it back.
Q. Notwithstanding the changes, one of the lasting images that Augusta has is the fact that your membership is still all male. You've seen incredible breakthroughs in your lifetime; will we ever see a woman as a member of the Augusta club?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: As I've said many times, all Members and Membership are subject to the private deliberations of the Members and other than that, sir, I'm simply not going to talk about it.
Q. Just to follow that up, there's a bill in Congress by Representative Maloney that would take tax breaks away from members of private clubs that do not have men and women members, or who discriminate on the basis of race, religion, whatever. I'm curious to your reaction; any comment on that bill?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: None whatsoever, Len. I'm aware it's been done many times in the past and no significant developments of which I'm aware.
Q. As a Georgia Bulldog, how will you feel if the Florida Gators win a football championship, basketball championship and walked away with a green jacket here on Sunday?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'm going have to think about that. Are there any University of Georgia players in the field? You know, Florida has had a great 18 months and I find myself of course in the end pulling for all of the Southern teams. So I guess I would be proud to see a Gator win here, as well.
Q. What kind of advice did Hootie give you before you took over, and do you still counsel with him and talk to him at all?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I would answer that by saying that Hootie and I are great friends and we maintain a friendship. And as we all enjoy relationships with our good friends, comes advice. He has been very responsive when I ask him for his help, and we talk all the time.
Q. Any kind of specific advice about dealing with us, running the tournament, all of the challenges that come with that?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: No, nothing that specific, no.
Q. Mr. Payne and Mr. Ridley, what growing season did you have around here? And based on the weather forecast you're getting, how close will this week be to the kind of conditions that you would like to have for the tournament, and of things being pretty firm and fast?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I will address the first part of that. We had an excellent growing season when we first applied the overseed in September. We had a remarkable first few weeks which are critical to the entire process, and we have had a course, believe it or not, that looks pretty much today like this all year. So we as Members have had great joy and pleasure in playing it all year long.
Fred, the last part?
FRED RIDLEY: Sure, Billy. I think coming into the tournament we've had as good of conditions as I've ever seen. We have a lot of grass, very dense grass. We're still going to have firm and fast fairways throughout the tournament. We'll take the weather into consideration. We're watching the forecast and know it's going to get cool, perhaps a little dry.
Our goal is to remain consistent and present a golf course that we're proud of and one that will be very similar to what you've seen in the past years.
Q. Do you anticipate scoring being somewhere on the level of last year?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I can't predict what the scoring is going to be, but we're certainly going to set up the golf course to be as good and as fair a test as we can.
Q. Can you explain why what you're thinking is behind cutting off the qualifications at the end of the Playoffs and not continuing to the post-Playoff events?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: As I said, we are trying to identify the best players in the world at the same time; keep the field size within a manageable number in order to be able to provide to the players and to the patrons the quality of experience that we want them to have and to which they are indeed accustomed to having.
Opening the qualifications to anything after THE TOUR Championship will put our numbers at risk, and we do of course hope that some of those gentlemen will still have a chance to qualify looking at the list, the Money List at the end of the year.
Q. Back to the course. I was just talking to a volunteer out on the course and he said that the fairways were just slightly longer. Fluffed up is what he said. Is he confused?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: He's a little confused. (Laughter) I don't think that there's any substantial difference in the grass. Certainly not in the height. It is because of the quality of the overseeding process, it's perhaps a little thicker than it has been historically with fewer thin places on the golf course.
Q. Just wondering, there have been many stories written about you and some have said you're the man to bring Augusta National to the 21st century; how do you view that?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Irrelevant. There are two personalities which will always define Augusta National: Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts. All the rest of us just came and went, and I'm going to fall into that latter category.
Q. There are some changes regarding coverage; how quickly can things be done?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: That's just certain technologies and opportunities are developed as we go through time which allow us to better serve our constituencies. And we have a mission that we take very seriously. We hope Augusta National and its beauty and its level of competitiveness will draw people to the wonderful game of golf. And if and to the extent new technology, the new media, can help us deliver that message, accomplish that mission, I would take advantage of it. But so would anybody at this point in time.
Q. Is it quieter than usual this week, and if so, should we -- how much credit should we give to you for that?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I've been in my office preparing for this interview all week, so I don't know what you're referring to. (Laughter).
Q. It just seems like with course changes and some of the protests and things, is it just that time for Augusta?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I think with respect to the course, you've heard the best answer from the players who have been interviewed over the last 48 hours. There seems to be very little disagreeability about the course or the setup or the changes which, in fact, were the subject matter of a lot of conversation last year. So I view that as a very positive manifestation, declaration that they like the course.
And as to other disruptions and stuff, you know, I don't know. We're just having a good time.
Q. Mutual friend of ours says that your dealings with the International Olympic Committee characters, we'll say, will set you up in good stead for this position. How has dealing with that whole IOC world made you appreciate your job here?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, let's see, I viewed the Olympic opportunity that I had as an educational opportunity where I truly for the first time was introduced to different people and different cultures of the world. And as a consequence, was able to make a lot of friends who embraced different points of view on a lot of issues.
And so, you know, in a similar fashion, everybody has an opinion about the Masters; who should win, how this hole should play, how that hole should play, who is the greatest player ever.
You know, there are some similarities, but mostly I would say that I came to Augusta with a great tradition in place, with an incredible staff and supportive Membership, and I didn't have any of that when we started the Olympics. You know, we started from the embryonic idea and built a team; whereas, there's a great team already in place here.
Q. It may be a bit early to be talking about your looking back on your time, but could you just for a moment --
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I hope so, John.
Q. Are you able to say how you would like us to think -- and other people, to think of your time?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, as I said, this is a job that has had, you know, five people before me have done it. All have done it admirably well. All have done the best they could do to advance our mission in golf and to keep traditions of this club alive and well. I know of the obligation; indeed, the responsibility, to do the best that I could do to make the experience all the more enjoyable for the Members; to enhance and increase the pride they feel when they welcome the world to visit us once a year; and to continue to make the Masters the premiere, best organized sporting event in the world.
If I can help achieve that and if we can still define it as that at the end of my term, then I'll be satisfied.
Q. Yesterday Brett Quigley, a first-year player, had to fly home, as everybody knows, for the birth of his first child, and when he left, he said he hoped to get back in time and to get a fortuitous first round tee time; was it fortuitous?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I thought about telling my first lie and saying we did it on purpose. (Laughter) It was just good fortune and we're delighted that it worked out that way.
Q. Wonder if you could elaborate a little on your perception of Augusta's role in the battle between technology and maintaining golf courses of this tradition.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, of course I can speak only for Augusta, but I certainly can, I believe, articulate, enunciate, emphasize the problem that we think exists that potentially threatens us and other great courses of the world.
With the combination of physical conditioning and equipment over the last several years, as you all know better than I do, some of these great courses have been significantly threatened. We were at a point at one time, as Tiger said the other day, where Augusta National was being played with driver and wedge on all par 4 holes, and that was not the original intention of our founders.
My predecessor and those before him had the courage to do something about it. It's something that we must be always aware of and never, ever be afraid to do whatever we have to do to protect that which is in our opinion necessary to accomplish to protect this great course. That's what we're going to do.
Q. Speaking of the Olympics, is there anything in common between that job that you had and the one that you're undertaking now?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Sitting in this room would be the greatest commonality of international press representation.
Q. And how about the skill level needed to do both functions?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Once again, I would say that the quality of staff here and the record they have of performance would perhaps to some degree minimize the extent to which I had to think I could do it all myself.
Q. For years we've come into this room and heard Jack talk about bringing back the golf ball; Watson, bring back the golf ball. Hootie at one point said that was an option he still held in his back pocket. I wonder how you feel about that.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: It's an option we still hold, but a little further, deeper in the back pocket. I would say that we've been encouraged by what appears to be the moderation of increases caused obviously by technology. We're encouraged by all of the steps and the seriousness with which the governing bodies take this issue.
And so, you know, we've got our fingers crossed, but we're still watching.
Q. Do you remember the first time that you ever came to Augusta National and what your impressions of the place were that day?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I do. A fraternity brother offered my current wife, then to be soon wife when we were in college, I believe my sophomore year, tickets to the Masters. We drove down here in my pink Chevrolet 1947 coupe that I shared with my sister who was at the university then and attended the Masters for the first time, and were honestly just blown away by the majesty and the beauty.
Q. How has your perception changed over the years to where it is now?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, let's see, from that point, I had -- we came several years while in college and then I had, you know -- nobody invited me back for 20 years or so. So I didn't observe a lot of those. But it's still -- as I said, I've been to 110 countries of the world and I've stayed in a lot of nice places, and I would call this the most beautiful piece of real estate in the world.
Q. In the weeks leading up to the Masters, the City of Augusta has become an easy target for some writers. What would you say about your host city?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, we have a great relationship with Augusta. It thrills me that something of this significance and stature in the world of sports could be located in one of the great southern towns across America, and we are very proud to call Augusta home.
I have thought as my visits have increased in frequency as I've gotten to be directly in the link with the cooperative nature of city and county government as they assist us; we would not want to be anywhere else.
Q. We've seen a lot more of you this week than we typically do the chairman before the tournament, and each time you've come in here, you've announced something that's been pretty popular with the people in this room; Arnold Palmer and the Achievement Award this morning and the announcement for the PGA TOUR winners. Are you trying to get on our good side? (Laughter).
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: We have a reduction in media credentials - (laughter).
No, all of the things that we have announced have been in the works long before my tenure began. They were things that we needed to get around to.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about the physical footprint of the club itself expanding beyond its current borders, the historical borders of Berckmans Road and Washington Road. Can you comment on what the possible plans include for the immediate area and neighborhoods around Augusta National?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I can comment on our business affairs to the degree it's already been made public or I mentioned it to you, and I would be delighted to.
We are building a new state-of-the-art practice facility which we hope to open in time for the 2010 Masters. In doing so, we are utilizing acreage right out here that's currently used for parking. We therefore were required to acquire additional property, most of it to the west of Berckmans Road in order to place the displaced cars, and we will start using that quite a bit sooner, and the beautification of the land we have acquired will start as soon as this coming summer.
Expansion has been a requirement as we look to how better we can serve the needs of our constituents. One important one, of course, are the players, and the current practice facility is just not good enough for players of this quality; nor is it large enough to accommodate restarts and other issues which we now should, and are going to, take into consideration.
Q. When we drive on Washington Road, we see the offers for admission to the course. Does that concern you at all? And certain leagues, NFL in particular, have sort of figured out, well, if these tickets are worth that much more, we should raise prices. Can you tell us the philosophy that you have about possibly raising prices to match the worth of these tickets?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, we have no thoughts about ever charging what they are worth. (Laughter).
You know, one of the great things about the Masters that distinguishes us once again above all other sporting events; that we want the experience to not only be the best but to be affordable. And we take certain things very, very seriously. Like, you know, the cost of a pimento cheese sandwich is just as important how high the second cut is going to be.
It's important that people feel they are getting value; they are being treated as we would like our guests to be treated and to arrive with great expectations, but to leave thinking they had been treated even better.
Q. In that regard, are you often approached with ideas that you find yourself rejecting?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: We don't have a suggestion box. (Laughter).
Q. But I'm sure you're approached with commercial opportunities; do you often find yourself rejecting them because you just feel they don't fit in?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Absolutely. There are countless commercial institutions that would love to associate and affiliate with the Masters golf tournament. We are very selective. We are very protective. We think we set a standard in the way we approach our relationships with our commercial partners, and that's not going to change.
Q. For a brief moment there was an attempt to bring the Olympics to this golf course. Could you say how close that was, and would that be something you would consider in the future if it would help America get the Olympics back?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, we came very close, and then we decided it wasn't a good idea to pursue, so we dropped it. And frankly, Jim, I've never thought about it a second time. The Olympics, we had plenty of issues of equal or greater magnitude.
And to answer the second part of the question, would we allow it; and the answer is no.
Q. You mentioned player feedback or player input in terms of the practice facility. I'm curious with these qualification changes how much you consult the players and what kind of feedback you got from them, like admitting tournament winners for instance?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: We did not to my knowledge seek specifically or solicit their ideas. You know, we are aware of some of the comments they make periodically. But at the end of the day, we are obligated and passionate about creating and continuing the intimacy of the field that was envisioned by our founders and that drives our vision in that respect.
Q. You were asked earlier what advice Hootie may have had for you incoming. Curious if you had any comments for him as the torch was passed last year.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I said, "Thank you." (Laughter).
We had a lot of conversations. They were quite personal. He is a man that taught me the deeper knowledge, belief, consequently the affection, that I possess for Augusta National, and I'll always be grateful to him for it.
Q. Has the club ever conducted a study on how long you could make the course if you wanted to stretch it out as far as you can, and if so, what was that number?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't know that number, but I would guarantee you we've studied everything you can study.
Q. Can you talk about that experience last night in the Champions Dinner, the parts that you are willing to share with us?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: No. I would only say that I had very high expectations and it was just magnificent.
You know, you start listening to great traditions of Augusta National and the Masters, there's so many things that would be on the list, and now I've been able to experience another one that is now very high on my list; to see men who have essentially dominated, but more importantly, made the game over these last 50 or 60 years.
It was a very humbling and wonderful experience for me.
Q. Since media parking is now in the middle of the proposed practice area, a selfish question (laughter) where will we be displaced and can you assure me that you won't bus us in from Atlanta.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'm afraid you're going to have to ask Craig that question now. (Laughter).
No, still up for consideration, but believe me, you'll be pleased with the answer.
Q. Just wanted to get your personal thoughts and feelings as you wrap up your first major news conference as Chairman, how is the week going for you so far?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think it's going well. I'm very excited about watching some golf, and y'all have kept me a prisoner here. I don't know if y'all know this, but for six years I've never been past the 18th green; so I've never been able to watch any of the golf, and I intend to do a little of that this year.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.
End of FastScripts