AUGUSTA, Ga. - A navy blue cap in the Augusta National pro shop has "Masters 2003" stitched in white - merchandise with a message.

Despite the controversy over its all-male membership that swirls well beyond the gates of Augusta National, chairman Hootie Johnson says the Masters will be played the second week of April, no matter what.

He was equally decisive about the club's membership: No women.

Not by the next Masters.

And certainly not at the point of a bayonet.

Defiant as ever, Johnson staunchly defended the rights of a private club, suggesting the Masters has not been tarnished and that most Americans were on his side.

"We will prevail because we're right," the 71-year-old chairman said in a Nov. 4 interview with The Associated Press.

Johnson's comments were the first on the subject since he fueled the debate with a three-page statement that defended the club's right to privacy, and criticized Martha Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations for trying to coerce change.

He said in his July 9 missive that Augusta National may some day have a female member, "but not at the point of a bayonet," which has become a slogan of his resolve.

"Our club has enjoyed a camaraderie and a closeness that's served us well for so long, that it makes it difficult for us to consider change," Johnson said during the hourlong interview. "A woman may be a member of this club one day, but that is out in the future."

Asked if there was any chance there would be a female member by the Masters, Johnson replied flatly, "No."

Burk was equally confident her group would prevail, and suggested that Johnson only broke his silence because he was starting to feel pressure.

"I had sincerely and genuinely hoped it could be settled, and I still hope so," she said Monday afternoon. "Hopefully, this is Hootie's last hurrah, and there still may be some pressure outside the club to make this change. That might be the case, or he wouldn't have called this interview to make points he has made in the past."

Johnson spoke from his second-floor office, whose walls bear a photo of him and former chairman Clifford Roberts and an original portrait of Bobby Jones painted by President Eisenhower.

He was as unyielding as ever, offering the kind of assurances usually reserved for death, taxes and whether Tiger Woods has the game to contend for a fourth Masters title.

"There will always be a Masters," he said.

He was adamant that Augusta National would not cave in to the demands of Burk or anyone else who dares to challenge the constitutional rights of a private club to associate with whomever it wants.

"This woman portrays us as being discriminatory and being bigots. And we're not," Johnson said. "We're a private club. And private organizations are good. The Boy Scouts. The Girl Scouts. Junior League. Sororities. Fraternities. Are these immoral? See, we are in good company as a single-gender organization."


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