‘Nothing political’: At Masters Champions Dinner, a teary speech but no signs of LIV drama

2023 Masters champions dinner

Players gathered for the Champions Dinner Tuesday evening at Augusta National.


If you were hoping for chair-throwing at the Masters Champions Dinner Tuesday evening on the second floor of the Augusta National clubhouse, we’re sorry to disappoint you. Despite the specter of the thorny LIV Golf-vs.-the-establishment conflict hanging over this 87th playing of the Masters Tournament, the annual breaking of bread among past winners was a cordial and jovial affair, according to a player who was in attendance.

No scoldings from Tour loyalists. No LIV defectors sequestered at one end of the table. It was just a room full of famous golfers — and Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley — dining, conversing and reminiscing just as they always do.

“Not one thing was said up there,” said Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 champion, whose seat at the table was between representatives from both sides of the pro-golf aisle: Danny Willett (establishment) and Sergio Garcia (LIV). “There was nothing political, nothing about that other tour. It was just 33 guys having dinner, shaking hands, saying hi, asking about the families. Crap that we don’t get to see all the time. That’s all it was.”

Business — well, dinner — as usual.

“I would not have known that anything was going on in the world of professional golf other than the norm,” Ridley said Wednesday morning of the mood around the table. “So I think, and I’m hopeful, that this week might get people thinking in a little bit different direction and things will change.”

Jose Maria Olazabal was parked next to Garcia, who downed the club’s famous olives as if they were peanuts. (“We had to order more of those,” Zoeller said. “Sergio was going though those like they were coming off the tree right in front of him.”) A little further down the table were two more LIV players in Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson. Phil Mickelson kept a low profile seated next to Gary Player, with Nick Faldo within earshot. Fred Couples saddled up next to Tommy Aaron. In the GOAT section, Tiger Woods was next to Jack Nicklaus.

At the head of the table was the dinner’s host, defending champion Scottie Scheffler, whose Texas-inspired menu — cheeseburger sliders, firecracker shrimp, tortilla soup, Texas ribeye, blackened redfish and warm chocolate chip skillet cookies — has drawn near-universal praise.


“The tortilla soup was a little spicy for me,” Zoeller said. “I had one little spoonful of it. I about gagged — waaaa, hoohoo, baby! Because I’m not a real spicy-eater type of person.”

Scheffler addressed his guests in classic Scheffler fashion, thanking Ridley and the club staff. “Very short, very sweet,” Zoeller said. “He didn’t blow any B.S. It was right from the heart — that’s all you can ask for.”

According to a Golfweek report, Ben Crenshaw, the dinner’s de facto emcee, read a letter that Ben Hogan — the Masters champion in 1951 and ’53 — wrote in 1954 to Augusta National co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. Hogan’s words spoke to how he honored he felt to be a member of golf’s “most exclusive club.”

Two other guests, both of whom are playing in their last Masters this week, also addressed the room: 65-year-old Sandy Lyle, the 1988 champion, and 64-year-old Larry Mize, the winner in 1987. Lyle said a few heartfelt words about the end of his admirable Masters run. Mize, who is from Augusta and on the verge of his 40th Masters start, was less successful in articulating his feelings, though not for lack of trying.

“He couldn’t get it out, because it meant so much to him,” Zoeller said. “That’s what that room is about.”

Masters champions at 2023 Masters Champions Dinner
The past Masters champions on Tuesday evening. Augusta National

Rory McIlroy is not a Masters winner but earlier in the week he described how some of his relationships with LIV players have evolved in recent months, which presumably has also been the case for some of the players at the dinner Tuesday night. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it does heal some of them.

“I think the more face time you get with some people, the more comfortable you become in some way,” McIlroy said. “It’s a very nuanced situation and there’s different dynamics. You know, it’s okay to get on with Brooks and DJ and maybe not get on with some other guys that went to LIV, right? It’s interpersonal relationships, that’s just how it goes.”

Zoeller, long one of the most popular and gregarious players on Tour, has made a career of forging interpersonal relationships. When asked if he has taken issue with any of his dinner mates who signed lucrative deals with LIV, he didn’t miss a beat.

“We respect whatever the hell they do,” Zoeller said. “That’s their business. I tell people all the time — they ask if me I’d play that tour, and I say think if your son was playing golf for a living and someone walks up to him and says, ‘I’m going to give you $50 million to jump tours to come play 14 weeks.’ Now, what do you tell your son? Well, damn, you gotta do it. No matter what anyone says, you’re out there to make a living and take good care of your family.”     

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.