By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editor
Just when you thought the last of the stupid comments concerning not allowing women at Augusta National Country Club have been uttered.
Just when you thought the biggest news at Augusta might actually be golf.
Just when you thought that the childish bickering in the Martha Burk vs. Augusta National verbal swordfight had ended.
Along comes Hootie Johnson with one final thrust or parry or whatever word they use in swordfighting for taking one last shot. Because that seems to be important in this fight - getting the last word.
You remember Hootie Johnson don't you? No, he's not the lead singer of the Blowfish. You might say he's the lead singer of the Blowhards, though.
William Woodward "Hootie" Johnson has been chairman of Augusta National since 1998.
He is the face, the representative, of the opposition to Burk. Johnson has been more than verbal sparring partner, he has been the voice representing Augusta and its perceived sexist policies.
However, Johnson is more than just chairman of Augusta National, he is also chairman of the executive committee and director of the Bank of America Corp, Duke Power Company, Liberty Corporation and ALLTEL Corporation.
But did you know that Johnson helped African-Americans get elected to the South Carolina state legislature for the first time since the turn of the century. He ran a committee that desegregated the state's public colleges. And his bank was one of the first major banks in the South to appoint an African-American to its board of directors.
Obviously, there is more to Johnson than the antiquated southern fried redneck image that Burk and her cohorts are trying to purvey. He is a man of integrity, honor and of great intelligence. But he certainly didn't do anything to dispel Burk's characterization of him on Wednesday.
In what was probably the most anticipated news conference in Masters history, Johnson took the podium to field several questions - some about golf, most about Burk and her protest.
In an attempt to quell many of the questions about the "wuh-min" issue as he called it, Johnson read a prepared statement. The statement, which Johnson read at a pace that could have killed a rabid pit bull from boredom, did nothing to help the club's stance on its membership.
Did it hurt as bad as Burk's comparisons of her cause and that of women soldiers in Iraq. Hardly. But his comments were bad enough that the Iraqi Minister of Defense would have to pause in thought before putting a positive spin on them.
"The fact is we are a private club," Johnson said. "A group getting together periodically for camaraderie, just as thousands of clubs and organizations do all over America. Just because we host a golf tournament, because some of our members are well known, should not cause us to be viewed differently."
No Mr. Johnson, you host "the golf tournament." Just ask any golfer or golf fan what the biggest tournament is. It certainly isn't the FedEx St. Jude Classic or the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
Don't even start talking about your members. Until about five years ago you could sum up the Augusta members in four words: rich, powerful,old, white.
And your members are past the point of well known. They are some of the most powerful businessmen and political figures in the United States. We're not just talking about millionaires here. Bill Gates wants to be a member and he isn't. It's about power and influence like the saying goes, "it's not what you know, but who you know" and at Augusta "how much you have of it." Let's be real clear here, Augusta National isn't a men's only club, it's a specific men's only club.
"I have also stated that there may well come a time when we include women as members of our club, and that remains true," Johnson said. "However, I want to emphasize that we have no timetable and our membership is very comfortable with our present status."
Loosely translated that means, "Yeah, we might find a powerful, rich, female member someday, but we won't let Martha Burk tell us when we do it."
If that statement was supposed to slow questions about the issue, it didn't work. If anything, it made the reporters want to ask more questions. Twenty-six questions to be exact. Of the the 34 questions Johnson answered, 26 were about the issue of women members.
Perhaps the oddest answer came to a question concerning Johnson's history of supporting a lot of progressive causes.
"Well, historically, I do have a reputation for fighting against discrimination," Johnson said. "And I have a good record and I'm proud of it. But our private club does not discriminate. Single gender is an important fabric on the American seen. There are thousands and thousands all across America. Both genders. Health clubs, sewing circles, Junior League, Shriner's, and we should not and we're not discriminating."
Great, now he's comparing Augusta National to the Girl Scouts and Curves Fitness for Women. Come on. The Girls Scouts aren't nearly as visible as Augusta National is, not even during peak of cookie selling season. It's not like Tiger Woods is out there selling cookies for them.
That argument is condescending and just stupid. To say Augusta is similar to my great aunt's sewing circle because they both are private is like saying that you treat a gopher and grizzly bear the same because they both are furry creatures.
To be fair to Johnson, Burk added her two cents and offered up a few comments that make you want to ask, "Hey lady,the last time you did this, it didn't go over so well."
But why would Burk do that? Instead, she clamored for any Augusta member agreeing with Johnson's policy to have their own press conference to answer critics.
Haven't we had enough press conferences for one week?
The simple thought makes most people following this situation cry in agony.
It rained yesterday canceling the first round of the tournament. Maybe it was Mother Nature crying at the thought of this debate continuing past the tournament.
Who is right, who is wrong in this situation? Would it be that difficult to have one female member at Augusta? Would it be that bad if there wasn't? Would there be any woman that wanted to be a member of a club with a bunch of cigar-chomping, back-slapping, rich, old men? It wouldn't be like she'd have another woman member to hang out with.
Is Johnson right? Is Burk right? If both are right in their mind, then who is wrong?
Who knows? Who cares?