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Posted April 3, 2017, 3:24 pm
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Bubba Watson doesn’t go to Champions Dinner for the food

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    Bubba Watson doesn’t go to Champions Dinner for the food
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    Bubba Watson tees off from #8 during the Monday practice round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Monday, April 3, 2017, in Augusta, Georgia. (CHRIS THELEN/STAFF)

Bubba Watson won’t be interested in the food at Tuesday’s Champions Dinner on the second floor of the Augusta National clubhouse, but he loves the occasion.

“We all have smiles,” the 2012 and 2014 Masters champion said. “No matter who it is, no matter what you think of a person, they’re all smiling on that Tuesday night. It’s pretty neat to see. It’s emotional all the time.”

It doesn’t matter what a champion serves; Watson makes sure he’s not very hungry.

“I have a secret. I always eat before the Champions Dinner,” said Watson, who kept his menu simple during his two turns as host of the dinner. “It’s always at least one burrito, it could be two. Then I play with the food after that.”

Watson recently gave an idea of what goes on at the dinner, which will be missing four-time champion Arnold Palmer, who died in September. Last year, 29 former champions attended.

“When Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnie and Gary Player, when they talk, everybody shuts up,” Watson said. “Everybody just listens. They’re just shooting the breeze. Somebody asks them a question and everybody just stops. Doug Ford is 94 years old. Just because of seniority, you stop and listen.”

Since his first Champions Dinner in 2013, Watson has became acquainted with the former champions before his time.

“I didn’t recognize everybody the first year. I didn’t know what years they’ve won. They’ll come to you and tell you what year they won.”

Everyone who attends the dinner receives a $10,000 honorarium, the same money a player who misses the cut receives now. It wasn’t until the 1958 Masters, when Arnold Palmer pocketed $11,250 for his victory, that a champion won more than $10,000. The previous year, Ford pocketed $8,750 for his win.

“Some of them mention this is the biggest paycheck they’ve ever got,” Watson said. “They got like $800 for winning. When you hear stories like that you sit back and think about how truly lucky we really are. All those guys, then Tiger pushed it to another level.”

Because he’s not interested in the food, Watson has plenty of time to get autographs.

“I get Champions Dinner autographs all the time, just for me so I can keep it. The sad thing is what happened (with Palmer dying). Arnold signed it right in the middle, below Jack Nicklaus. I have that in my trophy room. You do that because he has the chance of not being there the next year. Could be a young guy, too; it could be a tragedy. Nobody lives forever.”

When he’s signing autographs before and after practice rounds and after tournament rounds, Watson is careful where he puts his name on a Masters flag. It’s an unwritten rule that only Masters champions can sign in the middle, in the field that outlines the United States.

“I won’t sign in the middle,” Watson said. “The rumor was people were getting 10 times the value of it, whatever that was. I don’t think many people are buying thousands of dollars of Bubba’s autographs.

“I signed it for five people in the middle that I know are not going to get rid of them.”

That number includes Ping President John Solheim, Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott, and Matt Rollins, when he worked with Ping.

Watson, who won his first green jacket in 2012, was asked what he thinks Willett will be going through as the first round approaches Thursday.

“We all want to perform at a high level again,” Watson said. “He doesn’t know what to do. The Champions Dinner is going to be his first one. He’s going to be at the head of the table. He’s prepared a meal and he’s going to listen to stories. He’s not going to be talking much. He’s just going to be taking it all in. That slows you down when you step on that first tee because all week you’ve been thinking about that Champions Dinner. Now it’s over, you’re like, what do I do?

“I’ve got this green jacket in my locker I keep staring at it. He’s had it for a year, and he has to give it. It’s hard to give it back. For me, what I thought about was, ‘I was going to be here for life.”

Masters Record

Year Place Score Round Earnings
1 2 3 4
2016 T37 +9 75 75 76 71 $ 50,250
2015 T38 +1 71 71 73 74 $ 40,000
2014 1 -8 69 68 74 69 $ 1,620,000
2013 T50 +7 75 73 70 77 $ 19,480
2012 1 -10 69 71 70 68 $ 1,440,000
2011 T38 +1 73 71 67 78 $ 36,800
2009 42 +2 72 72 73 73 $ 29,250
2008 T20 +3 74 71 73 73 $ 84,300