I caught some of Billy Payne's press conference and have read the transcript now. Frankly, I don't know what to think.
Obviously, he has to defend the club's actions of the last decade to some degree and I respect his political savvy in a most difficult club environment. And blaming the weather for the lack of excitement generally works with some. However, the folks with better memories know that the defensive tone was set a decade ago with the rough and tree planting and the Masters just hasn't been the same since.
Q. Mr. Payne, as you mentioned, we did not see any effort to add length to the course since last year, is Augusta National finally as long as it needs to be?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I won't be Chairman when that decision is ultimately made, I think. We took ten yards off this year.
You know, I think we have it about right. I would be quick to add that this week is an important test. Since the most recent, substantial changes to the course in 2006, we have not had good weather over the weekend. The players have not, in fact, had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills against the competitive test of the course.
It looks like we are going to have some pretty good weather this weekend, and so I think we will continue to look at that. But I think we are going to see some good scores shot this week, and we are going to see the course played as it was designed to be played when those changes were made. I think we are going to be pleased with the results.
So while he defends, he also slips in the caveat about this being an important test. That certainly is encouraging.
Q. With respect to the so‑called new Augusta and the rough, the trees and so forth, the length, how would you categorize the comments you have received from players; complaints, observations or what?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Well, I have not received any directly. (Laughter) I've read about a lot of them.
You know, I would make the analogy that, you know, criticism hurts a little bit, and not as much to me as the entirety of the enterprise, the employees, the staff, the Members.
It's like when you go to a piano recital of one of your granddaughters and you hear somebody say, "Boy, that's the worst kid I've ever seen." It hurts your feelings. (Laughter).
But most of the people I have read that comment from, they are certainly entitled to their opinion. I am hoping that the consequence of good weather and further thinking about the course and the strategic approach to the course through time will eliminate most of that criticism.
You know, we just deal with it until then.
Not such an encouraging answer since most of the criticism has been constructive and made with an admiration for what the Masters means to the game. But then...
Q. Mr. Payne, you said that you had not received any comments from players directly. Would you be open to receiving comments from players directly?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: (Smiling) Well, there's not much risk of a direct dialogue, I don't think. I think they have more subtle ways of expressing their opinions, both the favorable ones and the ones that could perhaps be critical.
But I'm aware of them, and I start thinking about them, and, you know, continue to blame the weather. (Laughter).
So after all that, deep down ole Billy knows that blaming the weather is a cop-out? Great, but then there was this..
Q. The groove rule, it's supposed to make driving accuracy relevant again. If that's the case, will it still be necessary to have a first cut, or will you go back to the way the course was originally?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: We have no plans to change the first cut, second cut, other than as we tweak it every year, and there are substantial changes every year going back to the 1930s. There's always been some higher grass as you approach the pine straw here, and it's tweaked a little bit every year for Patron viewing, for drainage, for all kinds of course‑related and competitive‑related reasons.
But we don't think that that particular rule will have any impact on our thinking for the future.
So in the same interview, Mr. Payne is open to kid friendly improvements to the telecast and all sorts of grow the game initiatives, yet when the USGA and R&A step up to the plate by pushing through a rule change designed to hopefully make golf re-think the use of rough and narrowing to offset distance, and he doesn't think the rule will have an impact on their thinking?
Very confusing. But mostly, I like the little glimmers of hope in his comments.