Yes, there’s a Champions Dinner at the PGA Championship, just like they have at the Masters, although the PGA’s version hasn’t yet acquired the can’t-miss aura as the one that takes place at Augusta National.
The tradition started in 1965, when PGA of America officials asked defending champion Bobby Nichols if he would host a dinner with previous winners. He agreed, 19 past champs attended and only one (Ben Hogan) missed it.
But attendance over the past few years has dwindled.
Last year at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., the Associated Press reported that just 11 players attended. Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas, who won his second PGA later that week, were among those absent.
“I don’t quite understand why,” Dave Stockton, who won two PGAs, told GOLF.com last year, “because I think it’s very important for us as champions to come back. I’m assuming that at the Masters you come back — if I’d have won it I’d be there every year, and that’s what this should be.”
Stockton even said there was a time when the roster of attendees went beyond past champions.
“I remember five years ago, we’re on the East Coast playing the PGA, and I’m at the Champions Dinner,” he said, during that same interview in 2022. “Davis Love is sitting at the end — there’s 20 of us at this table. He’s on the left at the far end; I’m on the right at this end. I have no idea who these 20 people are sitting between us, and I absolutely flipped out.”
Stockton’s plea paid off, and the dinner went back to being more exclusive starting at Kiawah Island in 2022. Collin Morikawa, the 2021 PGA champ, was making his Tuesday night dinner debut that week. He served a menu that offered both fish and fried chicken — healthy or not, he thought.
“I’m glad it is (a tradition),” he said. “It was so cool to talk to a bunch of champions, not just champions that I know, but guys that are older that aren’t on Tour anymore, just to kind of hear stories from them. It’s a real meaningful night.”
So Augusta National may have a strong core of attendees and be the dinner that’s a little more well known, but there’s at least one thing the PGA Championship Champions Dinner boasts that doesn’t happen in Georgia. All the defending champs not only pick the menus, but they also hand out gifts.
David Toms dished out alligator belts with sterling buckles; Shaun Micheel gave Gibson electric guitars; Rich Beem went with ostrich-leather cowboy boots; and Rory McIlroy, one year, decided on wireless Bose speakers.
Thomas is hosting again this year. No word yet on his gift, but as the defending champ it’s likely he’ll at least be in attendance this time.