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Augusta National’s surprising representation at the Georgia-Alabama title game

billy payne fred ridley augusta

It’s a good day to be a Georgia Bulldog. A really good day.

On Monday night, the University of Georgia captured its first national title in football in more than four decades. Fans across the state (and far beyond) partied well into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, celebrating the historic 33-18 win over Alabama.

Yes, all of Georgia was celebrating the victory on Monday evening — even, it stands to reason, some of the members of a certain golf club in the northeast corner of the state.

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It’s no secret that Augusta National has an in-state recruiting pipeline of its own. Even with its far-reaching spheres of influence (and affluence), it would be easy to forget that a significant portion of the famed club’s membership comes from right home in Georgia. The state’s roots are on full display in the club’s executive leadership — two of its seven chairmen (along with legendary club founder Bobby Jones) are native Georgians — as well as in its most prominent players, including America’s marker Jeff Knox.

Still, as the world watched Georgia’s win over Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last night, the golf world received a surprise of its own. It came with about 3 minutes left, shortly after Georgia scored the go-ahead touchdown. With the Bulldogs standing on the precipice of the national title, ESPN’s cameras found Vince Dooley, Georgia’s coach during its last national title season in 1980, sitting in a luxury box surrounded by friends. As many keen-eyed golf nuts quickly realized, Dooley was seated next to none other than Augusta National member (and former chairman) Billy Payne.

Payne, a 1969 and ’73 graduate of Georgia, was a student there during the beginning of Dooley’s tenure as head coach. After a lengthy career in corporate America, Payne served as Augusta National’s sixth chairman from 2006 to 2017. His tenure as chairman is perhaps best remembered for the now-infamous Tiger Woods press conference, but Payne also deserves credit for vastly growing the Masters’ media offerings, including a significant expansion of ESPN’s television coverage and the first-ever video game adaptation of Alister Mackenzie’s famed design.

On Monday, Payne ditched the green jacket in favor of a different one, watching from above as his Bulldogs made history.

As time expired, ESPN’s cameras spotted Payne, this time on the sideline, as he prepared to celebrate with Dooley and the rest of the Georgia faithful.

It’s true — not even the green jackets can resist a field storming.

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