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The Games People Play

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA l What a difference a year makes.
On the eve of the 2010 Masters, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne sat at a podium in the tournament press room and publicly excoriated Tiger Woods for his “egregious conduct” in a marital infidelity scandal that had become front-page news around the world. Payne said Woods had “disappointed all of us” and added that “our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”
Now fast forward to the same media session a day before the start of the 2011 Masters. The chairman clearly had switched to full-blown forgive-and-forget mode, speaking proudly of the club’s decision to allow Augusta National to be included as one of the courses featured in the latest version of Woods’ popular video game for EA Sports.
In prepared remarks before he took questions, Payne did not mention Woods by name, but said the decision “was completely based on our motivation to positively influence the growth and visibility of the sport of golf. Playing video games is a popular entertainment choice for kids today, and our involvement just may, we hope, inspire greater appreciation for golf and, in turn, encourage participation.”
Your faithful correspondent then asked Payne specifically about the club’s decision to be associated with Woods, particularly in light of his unprecedented stinging criticism of the player a year earlier. Clearly, Payne also was in full-blown duck-and-cover mode with his answer.
“We continue to believe Tiger is one of the greatest golfers of all time,” he said. “And we hoped and prayed that his comeback would go forward in a very positive way … Tiger has an exclusive arrangement with them. When we embraced the game some two years ago, we took it as the partnership of us, EA and Tiger. We are very proud of that. It has proven to be an enormous success and we think it will impact kids in a very positive way.”
About the only good news in all of this is that at least the proceeds from this (pardon the expression) strange bedfellow relationship with Woods will go toward a good cause. The club has now established a Masters Tournament Foundation that “will enhance our opportunity to support the growth of the game domestically and around the world,” Payne said.
Good for them. But isn’t there a way this club could achieve the same goal with funds funneled from a wide variety of other sources – a small portion of the rights fees from ESPN and CBS, a few bucks from the proceeds from the $30 million in sales at the merchandise pavilion, a percentage of the profits from all those gawdawful pimento cheese sandwiches sold on the property during Masters week.
Is it really necessary to have a business relationship with a player who admittedly disgraced himself and the game he plays by his reckless actions not all that long ago?
How does an Augusta National chairman take the unprecedented step of calling out the No. 1 player in the world one day, then a year later, essentially put his stamp of approval on the product he endorses.
Last year, Tiger Woods was a fallen hero at Augusta National.
This year, post-divorce, did he all of a sudden become a role model again?
Isn’t that the message being sent by joining forces with Woods and one of the few companies that did not drop him as an endorser of their products in the wake of last year’s scandal, for all the obvious reasons?
Augusta National does a lot of good things in the wide world of golf. They have the most gorgeous course in the world. They run the finest tournament on the planet. They give generously to a wide variety of good causes, both in and out of golf, including the First Tee program, Boys and Girls Scouts, local charities in and around Augusta and most recently, a generous check to help the earthquake relief in Japan.
Payne tried to justify the decision to go forward with the video game by saying this was a project the club had been working on with EA Sports long before Woods’ had been caught with his pants down, as if that should make any difference at all.
There are other companies that also produce and distribute video games. For all the profit the Masters produces, the club could probably hire its own gaming experts and engineers and do it all themselves, something that might even help out the local economy with a few new jobs.
Why not make it “Phil Mickelson’s Masters,” and give the proceeds to breast cancer research. Or “Ernie Els at Augusta National,” and steer the profits to funding studies on the causes and possible cures for autism?
Then again, this is Augusta National, which usually does whatever it wants to do whenever it wants to do it. At the moment though, it just doesn’t seem quite right to embrace Tiger Woods, so soon after they read him the riot act and slapped him silly. Wrong place. Wrong time.


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