AT THE MASTERS
Payne already Master of change
AUGUSTA, Ga. » It didn't take long for new chairman of Augusta National Golf Club Billy Payne to make some moves.
At his first news conference yesterday, Payne announced the Masters has modified its qualifications for invitation beginning with the 2008 tournament. The primary change is allowing golfers to qualify if since the previous Masters they have won a PGA Tour regular-season or playoff event that awards at least a full-point allocation toward the season-ending Tour Championship.
A second change is allowing those who qualify for the previous year's season-ending Tour Championship and the third allows the 30 leaders on the final official PGA Tour money list for the previous calendar year to play in the most prestigious event in golf.
Payne also said that the previous qualification of the 10 leaders on the official PGA Tour money list published the week prior to the current Masters will be eliminated.
"Our goal is to have the strongest field possible, and these qualifications accomplish that objective," Payne said. "We missed the excitement of the winner of a PGA Tour event immediately qualifying for the Masters. Our qualifications also reflect golf's current landscape and we think they will serve the Masters well."
These are not new ideas per se. Tour winners qualified for the Masters from 1972 to '99, but previous chairman Hootie Johnson decided to end that practice. The 30 leaders on the final official money list was implemented from 1983 to '99. In 2000, it was increased to the top 40 by Johnson.
The last change for the Masters qualification was adopted in 2003. The use of the 50 leaders on the official world golf ranking, both previous year and current year, began in 1999.
"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," Payne said. "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."
Part of being the new chairman of the board is being allowed to the Masters Club Dinner that is hosted by the previous year's winner -- in this case, Phil Mickelson
Outside of Payne, the only folks allowed into the room located above the library are previous winners of the Masters. There were 26 of those invited to dinner, attired in their green jackets.
This is what Mickelson had on the menu: steamed oysters, boiled shrimp and crab slathered in hot sauce, oyster crackers and cocktail sauce. That was the appetizer. The main event offered southern fried chicken, barbecue glazed baby back ribs, slow-cooked barbecue beef brisket and grilled hot smoked sausage.
The sides included cole slaw, fried okra, potato salad, baked beans, green beans and creamed corn. You could add a little cornbread with honey butter and vanilla ice cream for dessert. There were some assorted mix-ins, and of course a wine list that would do anyone proud.
When asked what his biggest surprise was since being named chairman, Payne paused, then said, "I guess my biggest surprise would be something I learned (Tuesday night) at my first champions dinner, and I can't talk about it."
The annual par-3 tournament provided some moments for the highlight reels. Granted, Mark O'Meara
won it, finishing 5 under on only nine holes to edge Zack Johnson
and Luke Donald
by one, but that was really a side note.
The highlights were two aces. The first hole-in-one was by David Toms on No. 5, using a 9-iron. Not to be outdone, Rory Sabbatini turned the trick with a wedge at the seventh.