STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The Master's begins today in Augusta, Georgia. It's the first of the four majors that punctuate the golf season, and the only one of the majors that is always played at the same course: the perfectly manicured Augusta National. Behind the gorgeous imagery, the private golf club is dealing with an awkward issue, and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan is here to talk about it.
Christine, good morning once again.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: We should mention that Augusta National Golf Club only allows men as members. And that is awkward, because this year, one of the three major sponsors, IBM, has a female CEO, which means that she's supposed to get one of the club's green jackets, as if she's a member. What's happening here?
BRENNAN: Well, that's right, Steve. In fact, the last four IBM CEO's have been members of Augusta National. Ginni Rometty - who actually I went to Northwestern University with back a few years ago, so I've known her for awhile - Ginni Rometty is that CEO from IBM.
And she - we do not know if she's a member of the club or not. She might show up wearing a green jacket the next couple of days. But so far, there's been no word from IBM or from the club. And that has led to lots of questions, and once again, reopening this issue that really started in 2002 and 2003. People remember the Hootie Johnson-Martha Burk controversy.
Well, hard to believe a club that brought in an African-American male member in 1990 due to pressure back then, 22 years later, as far as we know, there's still no female member.
INSKEEP: You say as far as we know, meaning that they may have already made the decision to desegregate - if that is the word here - by gender. And - but we just don't know.
BRENNAN: That's true. And, in fact, listening to Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta at his press conference, he used the old fallback, Steve: privacy. We're not going to talk about it. All club matters are private, private, over and over again. And that's - I mean, that is their rights as a private club.
I think a lot of us look at it this way, that for one week a year Augusta National becomes a very public face of golf. And when you think about all the hundreds of millions of dollars coming into this club from corporate sponsors and from fans and what have you, the television rights, etcetera, that none of these corporations could last for one second with the policies that Augusta National has.
INSKEEP: So if the CEO shows up and is seen on TV, perhaps, wearing a green jacket, does that mean, perforce, she is a member, or perhaps just that she was wearing green? What does it mean?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BRENNAN: Well, it would be that particular green jacket. And it's not a particularly attractive jacket, I don't think, for men or women.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BRENNAN: But I know that - but - and, you know, that's what we always thought, like Condi Rice would show up one day in a green jacket, or Nancy Lopez or someone like that. So that's how they do it. It's - you make a right turn off of Washington Road, Steve, to get into the golf course, and you go back to the 1940s.
INSKEEP: Tiger Woods has a few green jackets. Any chance he might add another?
BRENNAN: I think he's going to, and I think he needs to, because he hasn't won a major - that was the U.S. Open in 2008. So it's been almost four years. Tiger's on a roll. He's playing well again. The question is Tiger, Tiger. Well, I think he's close. And he just won a couple of weeks ago, his first official PGA Tour victory since 2009 after the scandal, the run-in with the fire hydrant, etcetera. So Tiger says he's ready. And this is a golf course that he loves. In fact, when he was not playing well the last couple of years, he still finished - tied for fourth both years. So keep an eye on him.
INSKEEP: Just got a few seconds, here. Is there one other player in the field you would have us keep an eye on?
BRENNAN: Twenty-two-year-old Rory McIlroy. He shot an 80 in the final round with the lead last year - didn't end up with the lead - and came back and won the U.S. Open a few months later. And he is the next Tiger Woods.
INSKEEP: Really? You think he'll have a second shot.
BRENNAN: Oh, I definitely do. And I think he could be right in there, fighting it out with Tiger on Sunday.
INSKEEP: Christine, always a pleasure to talk with you.
BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Steve.
INSKEEP: Christine Brennan is a sports columnist for USA Today and a regular guest on this program. She's in Georgia, on her way to Augusta National. She'll be covering the Master's this weekend.
You are listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.