Former Augusta National, Masters chairman Payne honored for contributions to golf

Billy Payne, who retired last fall as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, has been voted the winner of the Golf Writers Association of America William D. Richardson Award for outstanding contributions to golf.

Payne will be joined by LPGA star Stacy Lewis and Hall of Famer Ernie Els as award winners at the 46th ISPS HANDA GWAA Annual Awards Dinner presented by The PGA of America and USGA. The dinner will be held April 4 in Augusta.

Lewis will receive the organization’s Ben Hogan Award given to an individual who has overcome a physical handicap or serious illness. Els will receive the ASAP Sports/Jim Murray Award for his cooperation with the media.

During his 11 years as chairman, Payne was a leader in expanding the game around the world while continuing to enhance Augusta National and the Masters. He joins Clifford Roberts as the only former chairman to win the Richardson Award. Augusta National co-founder Bob Jones was also honored with the Richardson Award in 1958.

Under Payne’s leadership, the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin American Amateur were created and became significant global events. Payne also was instrumental in the creation and success of the annual Drive, Chip and Putt Championship which culminates on the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta National.

Payne also led the club and the tournament into new digital ventures while continuing the mission of Augusta National’s founders, expanding the club’s facilities and improving the patron experience at the Masters.

“I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the entire Golf Writers Association of America for this amazing honor. So many of this award’s recipients were an inspiration to me, especially Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts,” Payne said in a prepared statement.

“Like these two great men, I believe golf teaches so many important and rewarding life lessons. Their commitment to the game motivated me every day I was privileged to serve as chairman of Augusta National. Whatever successes occurred during my tenure were a direct result of the pursuit of excellence they alone established.”

Lewis overcame long odds to become the No. 1 ranked women’s player in the world and a two-time LPGA player of the year.

When Lewis was 11, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and she wore a back brace for seven years. She wore the brace for 18 hours a day, taking it off only when she played golf.

Lewis eventually had back surgery to have a rod and five screws implanted. She gradually returned to competitive golf and went on to win the 2007 NCAA individual championship and 12 LPGA tournaments, including two major championships. Lewis lives in the Houston area and when she won the 2017 Cambia Portland Classic a week after Hurricane Harvey hit, she donated her winner’s check to hurricane relief efforts.

“It’s a real honor to win an award with Ben Hogan’s name on it. I always felt like what I went through was for a reason, that there was always a purpose. While I wouldn’t wish what I went through on any other kid, I wouldn’t change what happened to me,” Lewis said.

Els was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011 for a sparkling worldwide career. A four-time major champion, Els has won 19 PGA Tour events and 71 tournaments worldwide. He was also honored by the GWAA in 2010 with the Charlie Bartlett Award for his commitment to autism through his foundation and The Els Center of Excellence.

A former No. 1, Els has been named European Tour player of the year three times and has developed an open and long-standing relationship with the media.

“Thank you to everyone at the Golf Writers Association of America and ASAP Sports for this honour. What a nice gift to start the New Year,” Els said.

“Jim Murray was a brilliant, funny writer and obviously a legend in his field, so it’s nice that this award is named after him and, from my point of view, it makes the award more special.”