19th hole: The chairman’s news conference

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19th hole: The chairman’s news conference

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Augusta National chairman Billy Payne.

Chairman’s day

With golf restored to the Olympic menu for the Rio de Janeiro Games, it was perhaps inevitable that Masters chairman Billy Payne would face a question about bringing the Games back to Atlanta so that Augusta National might host the world.

Payne, chief architect of the Atlanta Games, championed a move to reintroduce Olympic golf in 1996, proposing Augusta National as the venue. But the idea fell apart, yielding to the politics surrounding the club’s exclusionary membership policies at the time.

Asked Wednesday whether Atlanta should take another run at the Games to host Olympic golf at his club, Payne asked for “a lot of leeway on this answer, since I surely won’t be chairman then” and gave this response:

“As to the Atlanta Olympics, having a shot at it, it would have to be somebody else (to organize the effort) obviously. But we are building sports facilities at a rapid rate. We certainly have not lost our capability for doing it, and so I remain enthusiastic about the Games coming back to the United States. We have a candidate now. I’m very excited about Los Angeles, so we’ll see what happens.”

Payne was referring to Los Angeles’ bid for the 2024 Games, which will be determined in September.

He also touched on the 81st Masters being a celebration of Arnold Palmer’s life, the new media center and no significant plans for future changes yet, and the continued ban on cellphones.

Asked if the cellphone policy might change, he said: “You’ll have to ask the next chairman. That’s not going to change while I’m chairman. I just don’t think it’s appropriate.”

As for the old media center, near the first hole, he said the future plan is a new merchandise area, a new concession area and an administration building.

No Par-3 winner

Severe weather in the afternoon forecast forced the closing of Augusta National at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, and the Par-3 contest, never before cancelled, was finished after only 55 minutes of play. No winner was declared.

Age-old question

There are nine Champions Tour players in the field, eight because they are former Masters winners with lifetime exemptions to the field.

  • The oldest: Mark O’Meara, 60.
  • The youngest: Steve Stricker, 50 as of Feb. 23, who qualified by finishing fourth in the 2016 Open.
  • Other former winners who are on Champions Tour: Bernhard Langer (59), Sandy Lyle (59), Ian Woosnam (59), Larry Mize (58), Fred Couples (57), Vijay Singh (54), Jose Maria Olazabal (51).

Numerology

46

Age at which Jack Nicklaus (Jan. 21) became the oldest Masters champ in 1986, a couple of months past his 46th. In the 81st Masters, Phil Mickelson (June 16) and Jim Furyk (May 12) are both turning 47 this summer. If either won, they would surpass Nicklaus as the oldest winner. Ernie Els, possibly playing his final Masters, turns 48 on Oct. 17.

The quote

“It has been awesome, and I love that I am here. Who among us as a kid did not dream of playing in the Masters?” — Stewart Hagestad, 25, the U.S. Mid-Amateur champ, an event for those 25 and older, who was working Manhattan and playing amateur events in hopes of making the Walker Cup team, according to Masters.com. He played 54 holes of practice on Friday through Sunday with a variety of club members and also 18 holes with two-time champion Ben Crenshaw.

The forecast

As the skies clear early morning, it will be windy and colder than you’d imagine. The high for Thursday is to be 64 and with westerly winds whipping flags at 24 mph, with occasional gusts to 40 mph, it will feel about 8-10 degrees cooler. Competitors who go out early may have an advantage.

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