Billy Payne, Augusta National’s Radical Chairman

April 17th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

The fascination with The Masters and Augusta National grows deeper each year.  Watching that tournament each spring feeds the imagination of any golfer worth their Titleists.  Doesn’t it get better each year?

Some will say that Bubba Watson’s victory was anti-climatic and indeed he wasn’t really challenged on the closing nine.  But there were aspects of this Masters that still made it a memorable one.  And while The Masters cherishes its traditions like no other tournament there is plenty of change going on at Augusta National.

This year the most visible and significant change took place on the Sunday before the Masters when Augusta National hosted the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championships.  The 88 boys and girls and their families were afforded the opportunity to spend the day on the most hallowed of golf grounds as they competed in their respective categories.  It was one of the most exciting days in Augusta’s history.

The man mainly responsible for hosting the competition was Augusta National’s Chairman Billy Payne.  Well, he’s probably responsible for just about everything that goes on at the club.  And from an outsider’s point of view, Augusta National couldn’t be in better hands.billy payne 1

To look at Billy Payne you could easily be mistaken by stereotyping him as one of those old, rich, white guys that inhabit Augusta National and figures the old ways are the best ways.  And you would be right, almost.

Certainly Mr. Payne fits the traditional stereotype of an Augusta National member.  He is white and he is wealthy having made a fair dollar in real estate.  But old?  He’s 66 and age is relative. Stuck in the past?  Old ways the best way?  Not a chance, not this chairman, not Billy Payne.

Billy Payne is a Georgia boy through and through.  He was born in Athens, Ga.  Graduated from the University of Georgia made his money in Georgia and was the man responsible for bringing the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta.  He is a mover and a shaker and a very powerful man outside of Augusta National.  Inside Augusta National is the man.

Since Payne took over from Hootie Johnson in 2006 things have changed at Augusta.  Johnson will be remembered for his stonewalling of Martha Burke and her movement to get women admitted to Augusta National.  Johnson’s not so diplomatic response to Burke was that Augusta will admit women when they want ”but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet.” 

Although Payne wears the same green jacket as Johnson, his is cut from a different cloth.  Payne is a progressive in a green jacket.  He has instituted so many radical changes at Augusta that he can be considered a revolutionary.  Billy Payne, Augusta National’s Designated Revolutionary and he gets things done.

Since he has taken command The Masters has expanded its television coverage and signed its ESPN early round deal.  He instituted the Junior Patrons Program where a child, 8-16 gets into The Master for free with any badge holder.  He did the unthinkable when he licensed the use of Augusta National in the Tiger Woods video game.  Of course their profits from the game goes towards their youth golf program.  It isn’t about making money at Augusta, they have enough from CBS thankfully.

billy payne dcpPayne has embraced the new media and the Masters home page and website are cutting edge and improve each year.  He was critical in starting the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin American Amateur.  And Payne broke down the membership walls when Augusta National added two women members in Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.

Payne’s biggest passion is the familiar cry of “growing the game” and he put his money where his mouth was when he opened up Augusta as the host of the Drive, Chip and Putt.  He called that Sunday, “one of the most powerful days in my life.”  That from a man that rules the most exclusive and powerful membership in the land.

Payne has a passion for growing this game and he has one of the most powerful seats at the table.

At each Masters Augusta National looks the same: decked out with all the azaleas, flowers and perfectly manicured layout.  But that club isn’t the same club it was a few years ago.  There are changes going on, significant, progressive changes.  And Billy Payne is responsible. 

For decades nothing changed except the champion’s dinner menu.  But Billy Payne has started a revolution of change at Augusta National.  He’s Billy Payne, Chairman Augusta National, a green jacketed revolutionary.


Paulina Gretsky…Now In Video

April 16th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

A couple of weeks ago Golf Digest broke the news that Paulina Gretsky would appear on their cover for their fitness issue.  And then the controversy started as plenty of people in and out of the golf industry voiced their opinions on whether Gretsky should have been chosen over an LPGA player.  Well, here’s a video covering the photo shoot.  Let the controversy begin again.  In the mean time watch The Great One’s hot daughter stretch it out. 


Bubba Watson Visits The Morning Drive

April 15th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Bubba Watson is a different kind of golfer and a different kind of person.  And being true to his Bubba persona he eschewed the normal trappings that go with winning The Masters.  He and his crew decided to hit the Waffle House after all the traditional celebrations at Augusta National were over on Sunday night.

Today was no different.  After a few nights at home in Orlando the two time Masters winner decided to surprise the crew at The Morning Drive.  Few professionals embrace the Morning Drive team like Bubba does.  Bubba popped up on the set in full Masters attire, green jacket and tie.  He spent some time with his friends and of course even teared up a bit.  Take a look.


A New & Improved Bubba Watson

April 15th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Bubba Watson’s impressive victory at The Masters continues to resonate through the world of golf.  But there were two drastic differences in his second Masters win from his first. 

His first win in 2012 was filled with drama as he strung together birdies on the back nine to move into the lead and then make history in a playoff with one of the most unforgettable shots in the history of the game.  This Masters wasn’t won on the back nine or from the woods.  Bubba’s 2014 Masters victory was essentially his after the ninth hole. 

Secondly, but more significantly, it was the difference in Bubba himself that allowed him to maintain his composure over that back nine and earn his second green jacket.

In ’12 Bubba was a bundle of live wires as he played in the final moments and an emotional wreck after he sank the winning putt.  But life has changed the hyper, ADD addicted Bubba.bubba and angie 2

On the course he displayed patience and even though we all thought his shot through the trees on fifteen was too risky, he was certain that it was the safe and sure play.  He was as steady as he has ever been on the course over that closing nine.

The Bubba we watched sink the winning putt, hug his son, kiss his wife and don the green jacket was a different Bubba also.  Last time he won at Augusta he had just adopted his son and this year he has two solid years of being a father under his belt.  That translates into two years of change for Bubba.  And it certainly is change for the good.

Bubba’s dedication to his family has given him a new perspective on life and his chosen profession.  Bubba had a history of petulance and impatience on the course when things went bad previously.  He had taken his frustrations out on his caddy, the fans and his game on many occasions.  But this appears to be a new and more composed Bubba.  Nothing fazed him on the course Sunday and he is better prepared to handle the mental pressures of major championship golf.

He says it all stems from his new family and concentrating on being a better father and husband.  He lists his priorities as God, wife, son, friends and family  and then golf.  The past two years as a parent has changed Bubba.  The self described head case is more comfortable with his life both on and off the course.  He displayed a mental toughness on Sunday that had previously escaped him.

But maybe it really wasn’t a mental toughness but his actual lack of caring that worked for him.  He knows no matter what the outcome his son and wife will be there for him.  And while he cares enough to play his best and execute his shot the outcome isn’t life or death. 

To be sure, he still does care but not to the point of making him ineffective.  And to be sure he has so much more in his life to care about and that has freed him up on the course.  That’s the fact that makes him so imposing and should scare the heck out of his fellow professionals.  A Bubba that just cares about the shot and not the outcome could be unstoppable.

Bubba is still a sixteen year old trapped in a 35 year old body.  He loves to joke, have fun and enjoy his life.  He will certainly be posting some crazy video of his adventures soon.  But he is a changed man in that body.  A man with a new perspective on his life and with that perspective comes a new comfortableness with himself and his game.  Two green jackets could be just the beginning.


“Arnie” A Tribute to The King, Of Course It Is

April 14th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Last night after the Golf Channel’s Live at The Masters signed off the much hyped “Arnie” took center stage.  In case you’re a golf fan that happened to be living in a cave and haven’t seen the commercials promoting “Arnie” here’s the skinny.

“Arnie” is a three part series capturing the life and times of Arnold Palmer.  Now, let’s put all the Golf Channel’s cards on the table here: Arnold Palmer is the original and largest investor in The Golf Channel.   Arnie, the man, not the series, is the absolute main reason there is a Golf Channel.  Quite frankly, Arnie is probably the reason golf is on television in the first place. arnold desk

Arnold Palmer and television were a perfect match in the ‘60’s when he came to prominence and televised sports was in its infancy.  So if you are looking for a 60 Minutes style, investigative report on Arnold Palmer go look somewhere else.  This isn’t a documentary as much as it is a tribute to The King.  That is what I expected and to be honest it is just what I wanted. 

The New York Times television critic, Richard Sandomir wanted more of a documentary.  All I can say is that Richard isn’t a golfer.

I watched the first episode last night, DVR’d it and will probably watch it again as I will the rest of the series.  Now, I was no member of Arnie’s Army back in the day (I was much too young) but I have come to respect and admire Arnold and the life he led.  I went into watching the show knowing it would be a tribute to the most beloved man in golf and sorry, Mr. Sandomir, I ate it up. 

Two portions of the first hour stuck with me.  Yes, we all know that Arnie tries to answer each fan letter he receives.  And I had seen a great piece on his “barn” before.  But he saves each of those letters?  Wow.

That barn that seems to house every golf club, golf shoe and golf bag Arnie ever touched along with a million pieces of memorabilia has to be heaven on earth for any Palmer fan.

The other unforgettable story about Arnie was retold by former PGA Tour player and current Champions Tour player and CBS golf analyst Bobby Clampett.  Clampett, a California kid, tells the story of how when he was a 12 year old kid he made it to Pebble Beach in the 70’s to watch The King.  Due to traffic problems he had no ride home.  So what does a 12 year old Arnold Palmer fan do when he needs a ride?  He walks up to The King and asks for a ride home.  True to Arnie’s image, he says, “Sure kid” and gave Clampett a lift home.  Unbelievable.

Sure, it’s a puff piece.  Sure, we will only hear the goodness of Arnie.  Sure, it will be filled with sentiment after sentiment.  Hey, he’s Arnold Palmer, The King and I’ll watch every minute, maybe two or three times.

The first episode airs again today at 11:00am and 5:00pm.  The next two new episodes air tonight and tomorrow at 10:00pm.


Ramblings from the Easy Chair…Masters Style

April 13th, 2014 No comments

by G.Rennie

MastersConventional wisdom has it that the Masters starts on the back nine on Sunday but not this Sunday. The drama started right out of the gate with the final pairing racking up a combined eight birdies on the front side. On the downside, but adding drama to the game, were the four bogeys Spieth and Watson accumulated, with Jordan coming out the on the short end.

The 20 year old Masters rookie struck first with a sliding left to right ten footer on the par-5 second hole. Bubba, who dominated the par fives all week, could only manage birdie after driving into the right fairway bunker. The fun was just beginning as it seemed everyone with a decent chance of making a charge on the front side was scoring. Kuch dropped back to back birds on two and three which tied him at -6 with Spieth. Miguel Angel was in the hunt, along with Rickie and the other Masters first timer, Jonas Blixt.  In the end, none of these players would challenge the eventual winner although they all finished well, top five or better.

The real game was in the last twosome of the day with both winding up and throwing haymakers. Bubba appeared to take the advantage on four when Spieth found the front green side bunker but that was an illusion as Spieth hit his shot of the day by holing out.  Bubba coolly coaxed his bird in on top and the lead stayed at 1. They traded birdies again on the next 3 par, the downhill 6th. The young Texan pushed the lead to two with a gently stroked birdie from above the hole on seven while Bubba save par from the bunker. The tournament seemed like it belonged to the Kid right then but the golf gods giveth and they taketh away.

They took two strokes away from Spieth on holes and nine and they gave them to Watson. A three putt on the eighth was the first crack in Spieth’s game but it wasn’t the last as his approach to nine was repelled down the false front into the fairway below.

In the space of two holes there was a four shot turnaround. The Kid had thrown his best shot at the 2012 champ, had staggered him for a moment, but then couldn’t withstand the counterpunches Bubba delivered, especially the curling birdie putt on 9 that had three feet of break at least. There were nine holes left to play but the 78th Masters was won at the ninth by the most unique player in the game today. Well done, Bubba.

FINAL TALLY for LinksLifeGolf staff picks:
Top Finisher:
The Greek and G. Rennie  split this pot with the Tie 2nd place by Jordan Spieth.
Lil Skins nearly came all the way back with his 50 year old runner, Miguel Angel Jimenez in fourth
Big Dick swung hard and just missed with two players tied fifth, Kuuuuuch and Rickie.
Big Skins continued to fade with a T 14th posted by the defending champ, Adam Scott.


Hits & Misses at The Masters

April 13th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner


Bubba Watson was fairly composed after his win at The Masters.  He says he’s “just a small town guy named Bubba that won The Masters…pretty cool.”  And Bubba has further strengthened his place in American golf history with today’s win and has the game and healthy body to compete for even more.  But the change in Bubba from his lost season last year is that space between his ears.  He’s matured and has a better grasp of the entire big picture and his performance shows just that.

Jordan Spieth did make history, just not the record he really wanted.  His T2 finish put him in the record books as the youngest runner up in Masters history.  He had a two shot lead after seven holes but he acknowledged that Watson’s experience may have helped him win this one.  He’s ready to bounce right back and said, “I can’t wait to have another shot at it.”  Spieth is an amazing young man.  He’s mature, polite, knowledgeable, accommodating and a credit to his family.  Watching him grow into this game will be a pleasure for years to come.

Jonas Blixt is one good golfer.  His tie for second place should make him a bit more familiar to the American public.  His one under 71 was one of only three sub-par rounds by the leaders today.

Miguel Angel Jimenez put on a great show on Sunday.  He’s 50 and The Coolest Guy in Golf but started off poorly with three bogeys in the first five holes. He fought back with a back nine 33 to finish in fourth place.  He’s playing the Champions Tour next week but really concentrating on making the European Ryder Cup Team.  Bubba and Miguel are two golfers that are fun to watch.

Rickie Fowler didn’t make a great charge to threaten his good friend and Golf Boys band mate but a T5 finish with that new swing working should keep Fowler in great shape the rest of the season.

Jimenez was the top “old dude” but Bernhard Langer was the top “old dude” that wears a green jacket.  Langer, 56 and Champions Tour Terror, shot a 69 to move up to a tie for eighth.  Take that Freddy.

Bubba Scott jacket


Matt Kuchar misses another chance at a major, shoots 74 with a four putt.  Ouch, Kuch is going to have a hard time smiling after this one.

Rory McIlroy came into here the favorite but his 77 on Friday sunk his chances.  He did battle back today with a closing 69 but we all expected more from Rory this week.

Adam Scott certainly didn’t resemble the 2013 Masters Champion this week.  Scotty started the week with a 69 and that included a double on twelve so it was a good start.  But 72-76-72 to finish the week left him no chance at repeating and tied for fourteenth.  But he does look great in that green jacket.

Lee Westwood started the day three strokes off the lead, went three over par through the first four holes and lost his chance then.


Bubba Wins 2nd Masters Playing “Bubba Golf”

April 13th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

MastersThe Masters never disappoints, well unless you’re Greg Norman or a Norman fan.  But today’s 78th Masters gave us all we could want in a major championship.  Bubba Watson is a deserved champion as he took on all comers and came out with his second green jacket.

Bubba plays a different game from the rest of the card carrying professionals.  He never has taken a lesson but could certainly teach plenty about how to hole your ball.

Bubba looks at a shot and feels the shot, he sees the shot in his mind.  That doesn’t translate into swing thoughts and pre-shot calculations.  He sees it, feels it and swings the club knowing from experience that he can curve it either way and have it land where he wants.

On the fifteenth hole today Bubba was behind a group of trees on the left side of the hole.  David Feherty was sure he had no play and had to punch it back to the fairway.  But that is not the way Bubba plays.  He plays Bubba Golf and even his caddy doesn’t know what he can do sometimes.Bubba driver 14

Ted Scott has been on Bubba’s bag for both Masters wins and plenty of lean times too.  Of Bubba Golf he says, “I don’t understand what he does all the time.”   But talking about the shot on fifteen he said,” Getting through the trees was no problem at all.” Yes, for Bubba it’s no problem at all.

That is just what Bubba did.  He powered a low shot through a hole in the trees that hit the green, rolled off the back and he managed another par from a spot where the talking heads had him dead and buried.  That’s Bubba Golf.

On the fourth hole, a 240 yard par three he stuck his high flying iron closer to the back pin than anyone all day and made birdie.  That’s Bubba Golf.

On number thirteen he hit a 365 yard drive and a wedge into the green and two putted for birdie.  That gave him a three shot lead over Jordan Spieth and essentially put the tournament away then.  That’s Bubba Golf.

He’ll be the first to tell you he plays a different brand of golf and this from a guy who said golf is boring.  Well, when Bubba has his game and he is hitting it well it certainly isn’t boring.  It’s Bubba Golf.


Reversal of Fortune: Bubba Watson Wins 78th Masters Title

April 13th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

MastersBubba Watson returned to Augusta National this week as a changed man.  And now after winning his second Masters title he’ll be changed even more.

Watson did today what few men can do in this world: he held off the charge of youth.  Watson, 35 was paired with the 20 year old phenom Jordan Spieth who threatened to rewrite the Masters record book as the youngest winner in tournament history.  But youth was not served today as Watson’s experience and new found on course patience ruled the day as he shot a solid 69 to capture his second Masters victory.

After his first Masters win in 2012 Watson was admittedly distracted by all that came with the Masters title.  At the same time he had just adopted his son Caleb and his focus was on being a good father and husband.  As distractions go that is by far the most noble but still, it affected his game.  His play on the PGA Tour fell off and he appeared short tempered at times on the course.

But being a good parent will teach you many things and patience and understanding is part of that.  Watson found the happy balance of home and work bubba and calebrecently and his play and demeanor have showed just that.  He managed his game today and let nothing bother him but early on it looked like he may be challenged by his youthful partner.

As first it looked like Spieth would indeed set a new mark for winning The Masters.  With four birdies and a lone bogey in the first seven holes the young Texan fashioned a two shot lead over Watson.  But fate and the holes of Augusta National has something to say about Spieth’s attempt to make history.

He walked off the seventh green with a two stroke lead.  He was at 8 under, Watson at 6 under.  By the time he made the turn and walked to the tenth tee the scores were reversed and Watson held the lead. 

Watson had found his groove and birdied both the eighth and ninth holes while Spieth had lost his game and bogeyed the same holes.  In a matter of two holes the fortunes had been reversed and Watson was the player in the driver’s seat, striding the fairways with head up.  Spieth had to feel like the wind had been knocked out of him and it showed.

A two putt birdie at the thirteenth hole gave Watson a three stroke lead and the contest for the 78th Masters had becomes a victory march for Watson.  Solid pars from fourteen through the last gave him a three under 69, the low round among the leaders and his second green jacket. 

One thing hasn’t changed about Bubba Watson though: he cried like a baby as the final putt fell.  And this time he took a victory lap with his son Caleb in his arms. 


Sunday at The Masters: Character and Characters Abound

April 13th, 2014 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

MastersSunday at The Masters is one of the best days of the year and this Sunday has the potential to be a very memorable one.  The cast of characters that are poised to win the 78th Masters is full of just that, character.  Each pairing provides us with skilled golfers perched on the edge of history all carrying their own individual, fascinating story. 

1:40 pm: John Senden & Gary Woodland.  Woodland had a history making front nine yesterday (30) but stumbled on his back nine.  If he can start that way again he can easily make up his five stroke deficit.  Woodland looks like a new player since he started working with Butch Harmon and with long time, major veteran caddy, Tony Navarro on his bag he has a chance to get his first major.

John Senden stumbled on his front nine yesterday but managed to right the ship and stay in contention at one under and four strokes back.  Playing a bit back in the pack may allow Senden to post a good score without the bright lights of the final pairing beating down on him.

1:50 pm Kevin Stadler & Fred Couples.  Young Stadler has a chance to be the first son of a Masters winner to earn his own green jacket and wouldn’t that be amazing.  He would make it two broomstick putters in a row to win at Augusta.  He’s only four off the lead and at Augusta and that’s hardly anything at all.

Fred Couples may just get more cheers today than anyone on the course.  He is loved at Augusta and he loves it back.  He calls it his “favorite place in the world.”  And one more solid day of dragging that creaky back over the hills of Augusta may just have Freddy not only breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record for oldest Masters winner he’ll be breaking Julius Boros’ record as oldest major winner at 48 years and 4 months at the ’68 PGA.

2:00 pm: Thomas Bjorn & Justin Rose.  Oh would it be sweet for Thomas Bjorn to win here.  The Great Dane is one of the most respected men in the game but his history in the majors has been painful. 

If the defending U.S. Open Champion can fly under the radar Rose is doing just that.  His opening round of 76 may have something to do with that.  But Rosey has been very solid since then going 70-69 to sneak up the leaderboard.  The last time he was four strokes back at a major? The ’13 U.S. Open…we all know what happened then.

2:10 pm: Lee Westwood & Jim Furyk.  Lee Westwood win a major? This perennial major runner up has his best chance in awhile and wouldn’t it be fitting for him to win here and be welcomed back for the rest of his life.  Westy needs to calm his nerves and control that short stick if he wants to wear that green jacket.

Jim Furyk steps into the Hall of Fame if he wins his second major championship today.  He certainly has been here before and that can be a good thing for the experience or bad for his recent results.  If Furyk can find his old putting magic he may just be thereat the end.

2:20pm: Miguel Angel Jimenez & Rickie Fowler.  This is going to be one fun pairing to watch.  Miguel and Rickie have more in common than meets the eye.  Even though they are separated by 25 years they both have fun on the course, play a gambling style and golf isn’t the end all for either of them.  Miguel has a chance at his first major and a good history here with three top ten finishes.  More than anything, Miguel brings his cool, individual style with him everywhere.  His demeanor is that of “devil may care” and that has earned him legions of fans.  I can only try to imagine the celebration if The Coolest Guy in Golf is slipping into that green jacket tonight.  And think about this: he is making his Champions Tour debut next week.  How about him showing up in that green jacket?

At only 25 it seems that Rickie Fowler has been around a long time.  But he wasn’t happy with his performance and when his long time mentor passed away a few years ago he lost a valuable resource.  But last year he hooked up with Butch Harmon and just recently the swing changes have taken hold and are having a very positive effect.  His 67 on Saturday has him two off the lead and he and Miguel will do well being paired with each other.  Fowler as Masters Champ would give Harmon yet another major winner but how is that Sunday Orange he wears going to look with a green jacket?  Pretty good from Rickie’s point of view.

2:30 pm Matt Kuchar & Jonas Blixt. Kuchar may be in the best form of all these contenders having had leads in his past two outings.  But at the same time he did let them slip away.  The good thing is Kuch is one back of the lead and would technically be a come from behind winner.  Kuchar at his best is a very steady player and that should help today as the pressure builds on the back nine.

Jonas Blixt is a wild card here.  Not widely known in the U.S by the masses, but still with two PGA Tour wins and a T4 finish at last year’s PGA Championship this 29 year old can flat out play.  And much like Fowler and Jordan Spieth he has no fear and will hit any shot no matter the risk.  If he putts like he did on Saturday…watch out.

2:40 pm Jordan Spieth & Bubba Watson.  Spieth continues to amaze all of us with his maturity and his golf game.  I keep expecting a stumble but he never does.  He plays with the reckless abandon of youth but possesses the maturity of an experienced veteran.  Spieth is on the verge of history here, big time history.  He would become the youngest Masters winner at 20.  And he would be the youngest, male, major winner in modern history.  Sorry historians, Johnny McDermott at the 1911 U.S. Open isn’t modern.  A Spieth win at Augusta National would cap his meteoric rise that was unfathomable a year ago.

Bubba Watson showed a crack in his armor yesterday and it started with his distance control and effected his putting.  He made it through the first two rounds without a three-putt but had two on Saturday.  He also failed to capitalize on the two back nine par fives and managed only pars.  For a long hitter like Bubba that’s a mortal sin.  But Bubba has professed a new “stress free, hyper-free” attitude and it has worked so far.  But if there is any day that will stress a golfer it is Sunday at the Masters.  He’ll need to be mentally strong today if he wants to win his second Masters. 

With Tiger on the couch and Phil long gone (thanks Lefty) we couldn’t wish for a more interesting leaderboard.  It’s filled with great stories, great characters and great golfers.  It’s Sunday at The Masters and it’s the way it should be.