Leading up to this year’s Masters, much discussion centered around the Champions Dinner, an annual tradition where the previous year’s Masters champion hosts a dinner for all the previous Master’s champions. However, the focus wasn’t solely on Scottie Scheffler’s meal selection. Instead, the attention was on how the LIV Golf players, who are former Masters champions, would interact with the PGA Tour stalwarts in attendance.
LIV Golf, a new up-and-coming golf league, has been in constant conflict with the PGA Tour, with both sides making controversial statements about each other. Some predicted a showdown when LIV’s biggest star, Phil Mickelson, faced off against Tiger Woods, for example.
The highly anticipated Champions Dinner took place on Tuesday night, and while any drama has yet to be revealed, the official Champions Dinner photo released by Augusta National late Tuesday night provides us with some insight.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 5, 2023
Everyone in the photo appears to be in good spirits, as expected. However, it does seem that the sides were taken when it came to choosing where to stand in the photo.
On the right side of the image, we see a group of LIV pros sticking together. Patrick Reed is front and center, with Sergio Garcia standing right behind him and Bubba Watson smiling over Garcia’s shoulder.
To the right of Bubba is Mickelson, the three-time Master’s winner who played a pivotal role in the formation of LIV Golf. Only two spots away from Phil, with Hideki Matsuyama in between, is Charl Schwartzel, the LIV pro and 2011 Masters champion.
For the most part, these five LIV attendees stayed together in the Champions Dinner photo.
The one exception among the six LIV pros present at the dinner was Dustin Johnson. The 2020 Masters champion has long-standing friendships with PGA Tour stars who have chosen to stay on Tour. Tour players have also shown less animosity towards Johnson than any other defector. As a result, it’s no surprise that Johnson positioned himself all the way to the left side of the photo, surrounded by the likes of Adam Scott, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, and Trevor Immelman.
Regarding the menu, Augusta National’s chefs served cheeseburger sliders, which were Scottie Scheffler’s choice, as an appetizer, followed by Texas ribeye and blackened redfish for the main course, and warm chocolate chip skillet cookies for dessert.
The Champions Dinner has been a longstanding tradition at Augusta National Golf Club since 1952. It’s a chance for previous champions to come together and celebrate the tournament’s storied history. The menu is chosen by the previous year’s champion and is often a reflection of the winner’s home state or country.
The dinner has also been the site of some notable interactions between players. In 1998, for example, Fuzzy Zoeller made an insensitive remark about Tiger Woods, the first African American to win the Masters, at the Champions Dinner. Zoeller later apologized for his comments, but the incident underscores how the Champions Dinner can be a tense affair.
Given the animosity between the LIV Golf and PGA Tour players leading up to this year’s Masters, there was some concern about how the dinner would go. However, the photo released by Augusta National suggests that everyone was on their best behavior.
The photo is telling in another way as well. It highlights the divide between the LIV Golf players and the PGA Tour players. The fact that the LIV Golf players stuck together on one side of the photo while the PGA Tour players were on the other side suggests that there is still a lot of tension between the two sides.
Of course, the photo only tells part of the story. We don’t know what was said during the dinner, or if there were any.
However, the photo could be interpreted as a reflection of the current state of the golf world, with LIV Golf and the PGA Tour standing on opposite sides. The LIV Golf players may have been sticking together, but Dustin Johnson’s choice to stand apart shows that not all of them are necessarily in solidarity with each other. The photo may not have revealed any drama or conflict, but it certainly offers a glimpse into the complex relationships and tensions between the two tours.
One of the most significant questions that remain is whether LIV Golf players will continue to be invited to the Champions Dinner in future years. This year, the LIV Golf contingent included Phil Mickelson, Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, and Trevor Immelman. All of them are former Masters champions, which gives them an automatic invitation to the event.
However, as LIV Golf grows and potentially becomes more of a threat to the PGA Tour’s dominance, Augusta National may reconsider its policy. The club has a history of being highly selective about who it invites to the Masters and its events, and it’s possible that they may not want to give LIV Golf players a platform at the Champions Dinner.
Another factor that could come into play is the ongoing legal battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. As mentioned earlier, the PGA Tour has been trying to prevent players from participating in LIV Golf events, and several LIV Golf players have faced fines and suspensions as a result. The conflict has led to a lawsuit filed by three PGA Tour players in a US District Court, alleging that the PGA Tour’s regulations violate antitrust laws.
If the lawsuit is successful, it could force the PGA Tour to change its rules and allow players to participate in LIV Golf events without facing sanctions. On the other hand, if the PGA Tour wins the case, it could further entrench its power and make it more difficult for LIV Golf to attract top talent.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that the conflict between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf is far from over. The two tours are competing for the same pool of players, sponsors, and fans, and the stakes are high. LIV Golf is looking to disrupt the established order and create new opportunities for players, while the PGA Tour is trying to maintain its dominance and authority over professional golf.
The Champions Dinner photo may not have revealed any fireworks, but it did provide a glimpse into the complex relationships and tensions between the two tours. As the golf world continues to evolve, it will be fascinating to see how these relationships develop and what the future holds for both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.