USA TODAY Sports’ Steve DiMeglio breaks down the top headlines to watch for at the 2017 Masters.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The 2017 Masters tournament arrives here this week Tiger-less and controversy-free. One development is far more welcome than the other, but both are not necessarily new to the game of golf.

You know it’s a slow news day, week or year when Augusta National chairman Billy Payne spends as much time Wednesday talking about Augusta National’s enduring no-cell phone policy as he does about the prospect of bringing in more women members. You know life is good when the closest tempest in a tee box is the emailed-in rules violation involving the LPGA’s Lexi Thompson at a tournament 2,000 miles away.

The bubble we hear so much about in society these days truly sits atop Augusta, at least for this week. It’s green and lush and everyone appears to be happy. The game of golf is good — at least here, under the bubble.


Occasionally, though, reality enters through a crack. Although Tiger is missing his third Masters in four years due to back problems, the 20th anniversary of his first major victory has been duly noted. If you remember back to 1997, hope sprang eternal that Tiger was going to take golf in an entirely new direction, opening the flood gates for people of color and new golfers of every demographic group, with their resulting need to buy equipment, balls, golf shoes and the like.

Ah, not so fast. Payne was asked about the uneven record of growing the game over the past two decades and what he would do about it. While he’s bullish on the future, and has just presided over Augusta National’s fourth annual Drive, Chip & Putt competition for kids, he didn’t spare the business side of the golf industry.

“Some people are not good businessmen and (business) women,” he said. “You know, they make mistakes. They don’t build the courses properly. They overextend. So some of these (golf course) closings have to do with the business of golf more so than the fact that people don’t want to play golf.”

He said he finds enthusiasm at the youth level of the game to be “at its highest point ever,” adding, “we can always do better, and we will do better.”

The same no doubt goes for bringing more women into this still-extremely-exclusive, mostly-old-boys club. There are three female members now at Augusta National – former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore and IBM chief executive officer Ginni Rometty. Rice and Moore joined in August 2012, so if you’re keeping score at home, that’s a grand total of three women in five years.

Payne was asked if he had plans to invite more.

“Of course, we would not give you the profile of our incoming members before they know about it,” Payne said coyly. “But I think that you will find through time that women have become a wonderful addition to our club, and there will be more in the future, certainly.”

Here’s hoping the numbers reach double digits — like now.

The bubble clamped down tight when the subject of politics, particularly President Donald Trump, came up. At the 2010 Masters, Payne unleashed an unprecedented lecture directed at Woods for his behavior during the personal scandal that ended his marriage.

“It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here,” Payne said seven years ago. “It is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grand kids. Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”

When Payne was asked Wednesday if he was comfortable with Trump’s close association to golf, considering his behavior and comments during the election, Payne could muster none of the criticism he heaped on Tiger.

“I’m not the one to judge … how (Trump’s) other remarks may have some influence on the game of golf, which is where my interest level resides exclusively,” he said.

The careful answer was hardly surprising, yet it could have been so much more. Such is life at the golf club that has changed a bit, but not that much.


Show Thumbnails

Show Captions