billy payne

Admitting women as members "remains a very good decision on our part," said Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne

Notebook: Payne supports women joining R&A

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – The Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced last week that its 2,400 members would vote in September on whether to accept females for the first time, a proposal that Secretary Peter Dawson said appears to have ample support. 

That includes Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne. 

"I'm proud to be a member of the R&A, and I bet you can guess how I'm going to vote," Payne said Wednesday. 

The home of the Masters had no women as members for 70 years until an announcement in August 2012 that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore had been invited to join. 

"We readily and joyously welcomed our lady members when that happened a couple years ago, and it remains a very good decision on our part," Payne said. "We are so delighted – and I know I speak for everyone – that they are members." 

He declined to say what kind of message it would send to the world of golf if the R&A takes on women as members. 

"I would respect their process, their requirement to conduct a vote, and so the process will culminate in a decision," Payne said. "And as I've said, I know where one vote is going to be cast." 

TAR HEEL SIGHTING: Aside from his 6-foot-9 frame, former NBA player Sean May fit right in at Augusta National on Wednesday. 

May was wearing his golfing best for his first trip to the famed Masters course. 

The 2005 first-round draft pick took up golf about a month ago and has "the itch really bad." He's playing just about every other day and decided to make the trip to Georgia for a look at the hallowed grounds. 

"It's awesome," May said. "What's not to like? It's majestic." 

It's been a big week for May, who also attended the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. 

"I didn't think UConn had enough for Kentucky, but it's a testament to guard play and having a little extra motivation," said May, who led North Carolina to its fourth national title in 2005. 

Asked about the Tar Heels' future, he added: "We'll be back." 

NO CHANGES: The Masters is the only major that doesn't have a rules official assigned to every group on the golf course. And it will stay that way. 

One of the suggestions that emerged from the Tiger Woods' ruling last year was that it might have been avoided if a rules official had been on the scene. Woods hit a wedge to the 15th green that hit the flagstick and caromed into the water. He said he purposely took his penalty drop a few yards back to avoid hitting the pin again. 

That was a violation – the rule requires the drop to be as near as possible to the previous spot – and it led to a two-shot penalty. Woods was assessed the penalty shots after he signed his card, but he was not disqualified under Rule 33-7 because the rules committee felt it erred in not talking to him before Woods signed the card. 

Augusta National, like the other majors, brings in rules officials from tours and golf organizations around the world. 

"We have approximately 60 officials on the course, significantly more than any other tournament," Masters Chairman Billy Payne said. "We think we do it pretty good with the familiarity they acquire for the specific holes – some with as many as six officials on it. So we think the way do it is pretty good, which is not to say that we would never consider a change. But we kind of like the way we do it now." 

TODDLERS RULE: The Par 3 Contest might as well have been a cutest kid competition. 

The annual event at the Masters delivered some of the most adorable moments of the week Wednesday. 

Ryan Moore's 18-month-old son, Tucker, pounded a plastic driver into the ground as he ran across the practice green. Scott Stallings' 14-month-old son, Finn, putted balls with a small driver and was a star on several holes, stumbling around as he balanced the whole walking and swinging thing. Kevin Streelman carried his 4-month-old daughter, Sophia, to the first tee before handing her off. 

All the kids were decked out in white coveralls, the traditional attire for caddies at Augusta National. 

Jason Day's 21-month-old son, Dash, watched his father on the practice range. At the end of the session, Day wrapped the boy's hands around a cut-down driver and teed one up for him. He made solid contact every time, sometimes only swinging with one hand on the club. Day couldn't keep the balls on the tee fast enough. 

Whack! Whack! Whack! 

Before long, the boy took his father's hand and walked with him over to first hole. 

The children were as much part of the Par 3 tournament as their dads, with the older ones carrying bags and even getting a chance to putt in front of hundreds of spectators. 

"It's really for the people," said two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer. 

Added 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman, who had his son and daughter in tow: "It's great. My little guy's been doing this since he was 1 or 2. They look forward to it all the time." 

Moore won the competition, shooting a 6-under 21. 

DIVOTS: Darren Clarke becomes the 25th player to make 500 starts on the European Tour when he tees off Thursday in the Masters. European Tour Chief Executive George O'Grady commemorated the milestone by presenting Clarke an engraved silver ice bucket. ... Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke have this going for them: The four majors that Tiger Woods has missed because of injury were won by Irishmen or Northern Irishmen – Padraig Harrington (2008 British Open, 2008 PGA Championship), McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open) and Clarke (2011 British Open).