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Posted November 11, 2020, 3:08 pm
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Recap: Some former winners sit out Masters Champions Dinner

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    The clubhouse is illuminated in the evening following Tuesday's practice round at Augusta National Golf Club. [Andrew Davis Tucker/The Augusta Chronicle]

Seven former Masters Champions were absent at Tuesday’s dinner, the most since Ben Hogan created the Masters Club in 1952.

Of the 33 possible attendees, 26 sat socially distanced inside the first-floor Trophy Room, a change in venue from the customary second-floor library. The missing past champions included 97-year-old Jackie Burke, Jr., who hasn’t returned since 2011. Also absent were Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd, Fuzzy Zoeller, Ian Woosnam, Angel Cabrera and Sergio Garcia.

Zoeller, the 1979 winner, had attended every dinner since playing host in 1980, but stated the pandemic forced him to skip the event.

“I’m one of those high-risk deals,” Zoeller said. “I had my heart surgery last year and I’m being very, very careful here.”

Ben Crenshaw serves as emcee of the dinner, and annually kicks off the gathering with a story on the Masters Tournament. Last night, Crenshaw honored Ben Hogan, who, on Jan. 12, 1954, sent a letter to Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts reflecting on the first two Champion Dinners. Hogan founded the dinner in 1952, and wanted to express its significance.

“Surely this has to be the most exclusive club of all,” Hogan wrote. “Not only do a fortunate few of us have the tournament to look forward to, but the annual meeting of our club as well. Here, long after serious competition for some of us comes to an end, we can still get together and reminisce.”

Last night, Crenshaw read Hogan’s letter aloud to members of the Masters Club. With a global pandemic in full force, Crenshaw, through Hogan’s words, wanted to reinforce the privilege of the evening.

“It was emotional,” said Charles Coody, winner of the 1971 Masters. “Having Ben read that letter sure was special. I think it touched all of us.”

Aside from Burke, who remained at his home in Houston, the next five oldest champions were each in attendance. Bob Goalby (91) flew in for the dinner and planned to return home Wednesday. Coody (83) took a private plane from Abilene, Texas, and also confirmed that he would leave Augusta before the tournament begins.

Gary Player (85), Tommy Aaron (83) and Jack Nicklaus (80) each attended the meal hosted by defending champion Tiger Woods. Hogan was the defending champion when he wrote the 1954 letter, and was preparing to host the dinner for a second time in three years.

“I can only hope,” Hogan wrote. “That I shall play host a few more times.”

Hogan fell to Sam Snead by a stroke in a playoff in 1954 and never hosted the dinner again. The final words of Hogan’s letter read, “Dignity is the keynote of the Masters Tournament where the game of golf is elevated to the high position it deserves. I am happy and very proud to play a small part of it.”