Wyman went down to Augusta whenever he could, and, when his three boys were grown and in business themselves, he brought them, too. Wyman deeply admired the club’s management style–autocracy worked. “If you have the right person in such a job, it really works beautifully, in terms of admissions, in terms of how the club is run,” he told me. “If you think about it, if you could eliminate half the committees that you know in your life, the world would be a better place. It would work better.”

But last year Wyman’s life, and his view of Augusta National, dramatically changed. Wyman’s wife, Elizabeth, died in January. In November, Wyman married Deborah Whiting Little, whom he had known as a colleague from his days at Polaroid. Little had long since left the corporate world, and had become an Episcopal priest in Boston, ministering to the city’s homeless. Little, who is in her fifties, told me that her own values are grounded in the social activism of the nineteen-sixties, and that she couldn’t fully comprehend her husband’s deep attachment to Augusta National. When Martha Burk’s campaign made Augusta’s membership policies a matter of public dispute, Tom’s membership in the club became the subject of much conversation in the Wyman household.

By last autumn, Wyman had begun to reassess his membership at Augusta National. Among other things, he had taken teaching positions at Harvard and at M.I.T., two places, he said, where “I didn’t advertise my membership” at Augusta. Finally, in November, Wyman wrote a letter to Hootie Johnson, urging a compromise with Burk. Wyman suggested that the club resolve to invite its first woman member sometime after the 2003 Masters, but before the tournament of 2004. Wyman intimated that he would resign from the club if Johnson didn’t relent. Johnson wrote back, “I want you to . . . know that there is no timetable for the admission of women into our membership, nor do I expect there to be one in the foreseeable future.”

When the Wyman family gathered the week before Thanksgiving, Wyman’s three sons urged their father to quit the club in protest, and said that they would not return to Augusta with him in any event (“our small way of exhibiting civil disobedience,” Tom, Jr., says). Wyman resigned from the club, and went public by speaking to the Times for an article that the paper ran on the front page. In the story, Wyman was unsparing, calling Johnson “pigheaded,” and blaming the controversy on “some redneck, old-boy types down there.”

Johnson responded in his annual Christmas letter to club members, noting the resignations of Wyman and Snow, and restating his resolve. “I am confident . . . that the overwhelming majority of our members wants us to stay the course and continue to do whatever’s necessary to protect our great club,” he wrote, “and that is what we intend to do.”

Wyman recollected that the club’s acceptance of its first black members had gone smoothly, and he predicted that the same would be the case when women were admitted, which he considered an inevitability. The club has long allowed women to play the course as guests (they played more than a thousand rounds at Augusta last year), and Wyman said that a few women members would hardly be noticed. “If Hootie could swallow his pride, it could be over in three days.”

I spoke with Hootie Johnson shortly after Wyman resigned, and Wyman’s public words still hung in the air. “Redneck and pigheaded,” Johnson repeated. “By a former member.”

Johnson was plainly troubled by the media flogging he has received, and he seemed a bit perplexed by it, too. It was the surprise of a man who has accustomed himself to an agreeable idea about his standing in the world, only to discover late in life (and on the front page of the New York Times) that his accounts aren’t settled at all. The Augusta controversy has somehow trumped everything that came before it in Johnson’s life, the life he lived in South Carolina at a time when terms like “redneck” and “discrimination” had genuine application.

“It is foreign to us, and it’s hard for us, to hear people referring to him in that manner,” says Robert McNair, a former South Carolina governor, who has known Hootie Johnson most of his life.

 

LEAVE A REPLY