Billy Payne

(b. 1947)

When Payne, a no-name former UGA defensive lineman and real estate lawyer, started pitching Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic bid, the city’s bold-faced businessmen presumably had the same reaction as the Atlanta Constitution: This man is a “screwball with a harebrained scheme.” Thanks to that screwball and unrelenting city booster—who strategically recruited former mayor and UN ambassador Andrew Young to charm International Olympic Committee members—Atlanta shocked the world by securing those centennial games in September 1990. Payne became president and CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, which sparked not only $3.5 billion in tourism and new construction but also massive repairs to infrastructure, a population boom, and a giant leap toward the laurel Atlanta had so long desired: true international city. In 2006 Payne took over as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, where he grabbed headlines last year for criticizing a disgraced Tiger Woods.

Mortal Enemy Payne, who has said he was driven by a fear of dying young, had a heart attack by twenty-six and underwent a triple bypass at thirty-four.

Dream Team Sure, Young helped the bid, but Payne’s ringers were three women known for being excellent hosts: Ginger Watkins, Linda Stephenson, and Cindy Fowler. Together, “Billy and the Girl Scouts” schmoozed the IOC. U.S. Olympic Committee member and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner called a High Museum party “the finest event like this I’ve seen.”