AUGUSTA — In the wake of changes to the PGA Tour schedule, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne announced in his annual news conference Wednesday that the Masters qualifications will change for next year.
Starting with the 2014 tournament, the top 12 finishers from the previous year's Masters will automatically qualify, along with the top four from the previous year's U.S. Open. Through this year, the top 16 from the previous Masters were admitted and the top eight from the U.S. Open.
In addition, the top 30 from the previous year-ending PGA Tour money list no longer have an automatic spot.
Payne said the intent of the changes was to allow winners from this year's increasing number of late-season PGA Tour events that have full-point allocations into the Masters field, while keeping the field as elite as possible.
“I have been personally fully committed to players gaining entry to the tournament after winning a PGA Tour event,” Payne said. “All of us take great pride and pleasure in seeing a tournament winner beam with pride and excitement knowing that his victory had earned him an invitation to the Masters.”
While the changes sound drastic, this year's field would have been no smaller under the new rules. No golfers qualified only by virtue of the money list, while Kevin Na's sole qualification was a tie for 12th in last year's Masters and John Peterson got in a tie for fourth in the 2012 U.S. Open. Meanwhile, six tournaments at the end of 2013 will qualify for the 2014 tour championship, adding the potential for six more automatic qualifiers through victories.
Payne also announced that, starting with this year's tournament, the cut after the second round will include the top 50 players and ties, plus those within 10 strokes of the leader. The prior cut number had been the lowest 44 and ties since 1962.
“In 1962, it was increased to 44 (from 40), but now, more than 50 years later, we believe offering more playing opportunities for the participants over the weekend is a positive for everyone involved,” Payne said, including players, patrons at the course and fans watching at home.
Among the other points Payne addressed was the addition of female members Darla Moore and Condoleezza Rice last August. He expanded on the excitement he expressed in earlier statements, when he called the addition a “joyous occasion for the club.”
“This week that's truer than ever, and I hope the experience for Condi and Darla, as members of our club, has been every bit as rewarding and enjoyable for them over the last eight months, as it has been for their fellow members,” he said. “It's just awesome.”
That excitement didn't drive him to claim Augusta National's move should affect other clubs that still have male-only memberships.
“I think (other clubs) should do what they want to do, and I would not interject the way I feel on the issue,” he said.
He took a similar stance on the controversy that has surrounded anchored putters. The PGA Tour, USGA and R&A – as golf's main governing bodies – have struggled to come to a consensus regarding golfers anchoring a longer putter against their bodies, a putting style that has become popular among young golfers like Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley. Payne said it would be “presumptuous” for him to comment in such a way that would suggest his club is on the level of a ruling entity in the sport.
“Given the fact that the ruling bodies have not yet declared a decision following that open comment period, I do think that it would be inappropriate for us to express an opinion,” he said. “Other than to say that we hope and believe that they can reach common ground so that golf will continue under one set of rules.”
Payne also set a timetable for how long he plans to serve as chairman, albeit it wasn't a dramatic announcement. The 65-year-old was asked about the club's potential role in the 2024 Olympics, and after joking about how far away the year was, he said that decision wouldn't be his to make.
“I won't be chairman of Augusta National in 2024, so you'd have to guess on who the chairman is going to be and ask him that question, because he would be the one to make the decision,” Payne said. “So I'm not going to propose to make it for him.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.