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Because the secrecy level at Augusta National is so high, there could already be a female member that nobody knows about. Though members are visible during the Masters because of their iconic green jackets, not every member is in attendance this week.

Several reporters, trying to get a clearer picture of what goes on inside these gates, came at the question from different angles. Each time Payne graciously swatted them away, preferring to talk about the weather, developments of the club’s digital platforms and other issues surrounding the tournament that starts Thursday.

Among the more awkward exchanges came when two reporters teamed up and accused Payne of sending a mixed message. Payne repeatedly talked about the club’s efforts to grow the game, yet the possible absence of a female member creates the perception that half the population is excluded.

“That is a membership issue that I’m not going to … thank you for your,” he said, being interrupted with another question along the same lines. Payne then interrupted that reporter: “Thank you for your question, sir.”

Another reporter, taking a page from the interviews with Johnson from 2003, tried to frame it not as a membership issue, but as a kitchen-table topic: What would you tell your granddaughters?

“Well, my conversations with my granddaughters are personal,” Payne said.

Asked whether it takes away from the tournament when the issue of female membership surfaces in the lead-up, Payne also offered very little.

“There’s certainly a difference of opinion on that,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve formed an opinion on that. But certainly people have different opinions on that subject.”

Rejected time and again, the reporters then moved to a safer topic: The weather.

Payne talked about the 1.4 inches of rain that came overnight, toppling trees and washing out bunkers. But he reassured people that the course would be fine by tee time Thursday morning, when Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit their ceremonial tee shots.


AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.