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UGA grad Payne has made Masters masterful

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

AUGUSTA -- A conversation with Billy Payne, the Georgia graduate who is Chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, reflects his passion to succeed in everything he has ever done. You likely have heard that by now or have read countless profiles where that has been underscored.

While there obviously are some rich men who hold membership in the Augusta National, it is not exactly a rich man's club. Billy is not rich except in experience and achievement, but when you suggest that he is the ultimate overachiever, he counters such appraisal by noting that it was more a case of being "under-talented."

Nobody could say that he was without leadership skills and remarkable instincts, however, a man with vision with a penchant for finding a way to achieve his goals, regardless of the challenge.

When he arrived at the University of Georgia in 1965 with impressive high school credentials, he quickly realized that he did not possess the talent of players like Jake Scott and Albany's Bill Stanfill who made All-America. He knew he had to work harder, even in practice, and underscore due-diligence. All-star recognition seemed to come easy for Scott and Stanfill. The best Payne could do was make All-Southeastern Conference, but he has a life-after-football resume second to none.

The important thing to him was that he won two SEC Championship rings.

"They are in my personal safe," he said recently, "and I take them out occasionally and look at them with appreciation. They are treasured keepsakes."

While making all-conference was not a goal when he enrolled at Georgia, he does take satisfaction in that honor since his father, Porter, earned All-SEC honors when he played for Wallace Butts in the late forties. It was Porter who provided the inspiration for Billy to achieve, by "stressing effort." It was admonitions like, "Did you do the best that you could do? Did you leave anything on the field?"

Billy knew that he could never say yes to either of those questions.

With that motivation, success began to become linked with Billy's name, which is becoming a household name in the world of golf as he supervises the playing of the Masters each spring. No detail is too small for his attention. He is always thinking. The Masters traditions are important to him, but he wants improvement across the board. If anything is unsightly, get rid of it. If there is a better way to do something, then give it serious consideration.

All his life, he has been keeping score with all of his interests. Like playing golf, for example. He loves the game and wants to improve. Unlike college football, where faithfully practicing would bring results on game day and determine his status with the team, he does not enjoy the practice of golf that much.

"You can't keep a scorecard when you practice," he laughs. "I want to play and keep score."

He tries his hardest to improve his score every day, his cantankerous back, notwithstanding.

No discussion with him can take place without a reference to his masterminding the plan that brought the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta. He won't say that divine intervention was involved, but there was a church-related incident that spawned his goal for the 1996 Olympics. He headed up a fund drive for a building program for his church. On the day of the dedication, he was riding home afterward and exclaimed to his wife, Martha. "Did you see the look on everybody's face? Did you see how wonderful they seemed to feel at what we had done?"

Then he said, "We've got to find something else that will make people happy."

A couple of days later, he came home and said to Martha: "We're going to bring the '96 Olympics to Atlanta."

Not once did he believe the goal would not be achieved. Billy Payne has a way of developing ideas and making people believe.

It would appear difficult to improve on the Masters, except that the current chairman is Billy Payne.

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Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith will be at the Masters all week, filing daily columns from now until the end of the tournament.