PGA Tour-LIV Golf Rivalry Could Make for a Tense Masters Dinner

This might get awkward.Forget the menu of cheeseburgers, firecracker shrimp, rib-eyes and redfish. This year’s Masters Champions Dinner on Tuesday night will have PGA Tour players meeting face-to-face with six former colleagues who have defected to LIV Golf, the Saudi-financed league.The LIV golfers Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Charl Schwartzel will be close together for drinks and dinner with Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, all outspoken critics of the former PGA players who left for LIV Golf.There have already been heated public exchanges between the players. And while some players downplay the interaction at the dinner, others say it’s impossible to ignore the rift.Scottie Scheffler, who won the Masters Tournament last year and is hosting the traditional event at which past Masters winners are invited, recently joked that Watson should have a separate table. Watson took the comment in stride.“Hey, as long as I’m at the Champions Dinner, I’m fine,” Watson said at a recent news conference. “I’ll sit wherever he tells me. It’s fine. As long as I’m allowed back, I’ll sit wherever he wants me to. I’ll sit outside and just stare in the window.”Scheffler later put the evening in perspective.“With Augusta National being such a special place and with the history of the game and whatnot,” he said. “I think we can put all our stuff aside and just get together for a fun meal, all in a room together and just kind of celebrate the game of golf and Augusta National and just hang out.”Johnson, the 2020 Masters champion, said recently that he didn’t expect any problems at the dinner.“I heard what was said about possible tension at the dinner, but there will not be any tension from me.” he said. “Besides, I still have a great relationship with all my fellow Masters champions,”The two-time winner José Olazábal of Spain told the golf writer Bernie McGuire that “if Bubba Watson asks me to pass the salt or whatever, I will be happy to pass him whatever Bubba or any other of the fellow Masters winners wish for.“Each one of us who sit down at the Champions Dinner are in the room that night as we have won at Augusta National and, as I said, I respect each and everyone in the room as they are fellow Masters winners, and also what they have achieved in their careers,” Olazábal said.Patrick Reed, who won the Masters in 2018 and now plays for LIV Golf, said the dinner should focus on Scheffler, not the ongoing drama.“The thing is, the Champions Dinner has nothing to do with myself or any other person in that room except for Scottie Scheffler,” Reed told Golf Digest. “That’s his dinner. My experiences during those dinners have been amazing. We’re always talking about past experiences at Augusta, how the other guys have won the [Masters], what obstacles they had to overcome, the shots they pulled off in their experiences.”“I’m going to feel fine,” Garcia said in March. “I don’t have any problems with anyone, and I try not to make a big deal out of it. I’m going to be there because I earned it, because I deserve it, and I’m going to enjoy it. I hope the rest of the guys do the same.”Tom Clavin, who wrote “One for the Ages: Jack Nicklaus and the 1986 Masters,” said in an interview that the dinner would be interesting because it mixes young LIV golfers with the elder statesmen.“It is fascinating that the Champions Dinner must be the first time since the schism that several of the prime players are breaking bread together,” Clavin said. “But there’s also the generational aspect. At other tourneys there is nothing like the presence of older players like at the Masters. Imagine [Ben] Crenshaw sitting next to a young LIV player, or [Jack] Nicklaus and Mickelson. Yet Masters tradition also demands civility. I would love to be a fly on that wall.”At a recent LIV event in Tucson, Ariz., Mickelson, the three-time Masters champion, did not address the dinner specifically, but spoke about reuniting with friends from the PGA Tour.“No expectations,” he said. “We are grateful to just be able to play and compete and be a part of it. A lot of the people there that are playing and competing in the Masters are friends for decades, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”During a news conference at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles in February, Tiger Woods was asked what his demeanor would be at the dinner and if the dinner would be uncomfortable.“That’s a great question because I don’t know because I haven’t been around them,” Woods said about the LIV Golf players. “I don’t know what that reaction’s going to be. I know that some of our friendships have certainly taken a different path, but we’ll see when all that transpires.”Woods agreed that any spat shouldn’t take away from honoring Scheffler.“The Champions Dinner is going to be obviously something that’s talked about,” Woods said. “We as a whole need to honor Scottie, Scottie’s the winner, it’s his dinner. So making sure that Scottie gets honored correctly but also realizing the nature of what has transpired and the people that have left, just where our situations are either legally, emotionally. There’s a lot there.”

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