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    Champions Dinner Brings Out Emotion

    Champions Dinner
    Bary Koenig/Augusta National
    Masters champions get together for a group portrait at the 2013 Champions dinner.

    After 12 months of cherishing his Masters Tournament triumph—so much so that he wrapped his infant son, Caleb, in the ceremonial Green Jacket—Bubba Watson enjoyed one of the time-honored privileges of victory at Augusta on Tuesday: hosting the Champions dinner. To prepare for the occasion, Watson sought the advice of Tom Watson, the two-time Masters champion, over lunch in the Clubhouse on Monday.

    “I asked him a little bit, asked him how many people would be there, and he told me the oldest that would be there and things like that,” Bubba Watson said Tuesday. “He told me, ‘Just listen to stories.’ You know when a man of his ability, his passion for the game of golf, when he’s talking about listening to other people’s stories you know it’s a special deal, it’s a special night.

    “He said I might have to talk, so I don’t know if I have to talk tonight, but obviously if I talk I’ll probably cry,” added Watson, who teared up during his press conference Tuesday morning when discussing his son.

    The idea of an annual dinner for Masters winners originated with Ben Hogan. As he prepared to defend his title in 1952, Hogan proposed hosting a dinner during Tournament week for all of the previous champions. Hogan went even further, suggesting the formation of what he called the Masters Club of past champions.

    Nine of the 11 eligible invitees attended that inaugural Champions dinner 63 years ago. They heartily endorsed Hogan’s idea of forming the club and granting honorary memberships to Bobby Jones, the President of Augusta National, and Clifford Roberts, the Chairman. The same privilege would be extended to subsequent chairmen: Bill Lane, Hord Hardin, Jack Stephens, Hootie Johnson and Billy Payne.

    To this day, tradition holds that the current champion chooses the menu, pays the check and receives an inscribed gold locket in the form of the Augusta National emblem. The Masters Club members gather at long, adjoining tables. Everyone wears his Green Jacket. The tone tends to be more relaxed than formal, though—good-natured ribbing is the norm. “Over the years,” Roberts once noted, “no one has been immune to the banter.”

    Part of the banter surrounds the champion’s menu selections. Watson chose to keep his choices private before Tuesday's gathering. The menu included a Traditional Caesar Salad, Grilled Chicken Breast with Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, Corn and Macaroni and Cheese served with Cornbread and Confetti Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream.

    “This might be my one chance to pick the dinner, and I've chosen not to speak on it,” Watson said. “Truthfully, I told the Masters and Augusta back in November what it was and I haven’t told anybody since. I’m not sure if my wife knows what’s on there, or she might have forgot.”

    Last year, South African Charl Schwartzel raised eyebrows with selections such as sliced biltong (strips of cured meat) and boerewors (sausages) with monkey gland sauce. “It’s got nothing related to the name,” he tried to assure his fellow champions. “There’s no monkey and there’s no gland.”

    Scotsman Sandy Lyle famously served his homeland’s traditional dish of haggis, sheep innards minced with oatmeal and spices and simmered in the lining of a sheep’s stomach. Ben Crenshaw chose Texas brisket and Hill Country sausage. Nick Faldo opted for the British staple of fish and chips. For the 2010 Champions dinner, Angel Cabrera arranged for an assortment of Argentine-style grilled meats—including morcilla, or blood sausage. Told of the menu beforehand, Nicklaus quipped, “I hope he enjoys it.” 


    Champions Dinner
    Bary Koenig/Augusta National
    Shwartzel presents Watson with the Green Jacket
    Sam Greenwood/Augusta National