Will there be any awkwardness or bad blood at this year’s Masters Champions Dinner? That’s been a major talking point as the Masters — and the Champions Dinner on April 4 — draws closer.
But we’ve already talked about that angle plenty, so instead of breaking it down again let’s instead look back at a previous Champions Dinner, one in which Fred Couples said included the “coolest thing” he’s ever been a part of since he’s attended the famous gathering.
That’s quite the compliment, too, since Couples, the 1992 champion, has been to three-decades worth of dinners.
“There are now stories. In ’92 when I won, for four or five or six years, you went, you signed a few autographs, you mingled and then you sat, you ate,” said Couples, speaking to GOLF.com at the Berenberg Invitational last fall. “Lot more stories [now], which is very entertaining. Sam Snead was incredible before he passed away. And probably the greatest story was Arnold Palmer’s last year there. I think maybe he — I don’t want to say he knew he probably wouldn’t be there another year — but he gave a great speech, so probably the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in that room.”
Then Couples continued, and he transitioned from the “greatest” to “coolest” thing he’s ever seen. Technically those two words have similar meaning, but we have no problem with him elaborating on the Champ Dinner.
“It’s becoming a very entertaining and fun night,” he said. “Hideki Matsuyama last year gave a speech in English and got a standing ovation. That was probably the coolest thing I’ve seen in the 31 years I’ve gone.”
Past champions Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Gary Player, after hitting the ceremonial first tee shots last year, spoke about how impressed they were with Matsuyama, too.
“Doesn’t speak very much English, and he did not look at a note,” Nicklaus said. “He had figured out what he wanted to say. I’m sure he had some help getting it on paper and then memorized it or whatever. But he was terrific.”
Watson said he was watching Matsuyama, seated between Ben Crenshaw and chairman Fred Ridley, before his speech. He could tell he was nervous, but Watson said Matsuyama never missed a beat.
“He didn’t miss a word. After the speech was over, he goes, ‘Whew,’ like that,” Watson said. “Simultaneously everybody got up to give him a standing ovation, a standing O, because we really appreciated the effort that he put in to go through minutes in English when he had a hard time doing it.”
The spread wasn’t bad either, as Matsuyama incorporated Japanese dishes, including A5 Wagyu Beef Ribeye.
“I think the food was probably the best we ever had,” Nicklaus said.
Defending champ Scottie Scheffler has big shoes to fill. He released his menu last week, although we’ll have to wait until we get to Augusta to hear the official reviews.