As 2023 Masters practice rounds begin, will LIV-PGA Tour feud continue at Champions Dinner?

AUGUSTA, Ga. — There was plenty of talk about golf – How did Tiger look? And how about what that change on No. 13? – as the field for the 87th Masters Tournament turned out in force for Monday’s first official practice round.

There was also the inescapable shadow that LIV Golf has cast over the tournament, and the different ways it might impact the tournament. There are 18 players, most of them formerly from the PGA Tour, in the field from LIV Golf, which has disrupted the sport as nothing ever before at the professional level.

LIV, which didn’t start its first season until June 9, 2022, used multi-million dollar contracts and purses to lure away a number of PGA Tour stars. Some of them took verbal shots at their old tour on the way out the door, creating hard feeling with their former mates. There is a possible scenario that a PGA Tour star could be battling a LIV golfer for the green jacket on Sunday.

Masters 2023 leaderboard: Get the latest news from Augusta

Six LIV players are former Masters champions and are expected to be among the 33 people at Tuesday’s Champions Dinner.

Some champions, such as Mark O’Meara, believe the dinner “is going to be fine, totally fine.”

Ben Crenshaw, the moderator of the dinner, isn’t sure how it will go.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Crenshaw recently told Golf Channel. “It’s probably going to be tense in a few moments, I would suppose.

“But you know, we’re all champions in that room. By last count, I think there’s six players that have joined LIV. But my insistence is going to be on, look, everyone’s together in this room, everybody fought really hard to get into this room, we should all be happy that we’re together. People make choices in life. I’m very old-fashioned. I don’t particularly like what’s going on. I think the worst thing to me is it’s fractured some relationships, from player to player, golfer to golfer. Golf has never really been that way. Golf is a very traditional game.”

Last year Phil Mickelson skipped the dinner – and the tournament – after making inflammatory comments about the PGA Tour, where he had played for 30 years. Two months later, he signed with LIV.

“My take is I’m friends with all these guys, whether it’s Sergio (Garcia) or Patrick Reed or Dustin Johnson, whoever you want to talk about,” O’Meara said. “Tuesday night will be about Masters history and Scottie Scheffler as the defending champion. As I player, I hope that is the case and I believe that will be the case.”

LIV’s arrival at Masters met with handshakes, explanations

Of the champions who will be in the room, the most vocal recent critic has been Fred Couples, the 1982 champion. In an Orange County Register story, he called Mickelson a “nutbag.” He also took a shot at Mickelson’s form on LIV, which hasn’t been stellar.

“If you’re giving Phil Mickelson $200 million at age 52 to shoot 74 and 75, God bless you,” Couples said, according to the Register.

In the wake of those comments, Couples said Monday that “people have asked me, ‘Are you going to get paired with Phil?’ I’m like, ‘I would love to be paired with Phil.’ He’s one of the best players to ever play. He loves this place as much as I do. If we did, we’d look at each other on the first hole and we’d have a good time.”

In that same Register story, Couples ripped players who were dismissive on their time on the PGA Tour as “clowns” and name-checked Garcia.

“I have no problem with anyone who plays on the LIV tour,” Couples said Monday. “I just don’t think they should bash the PGA Tour – or anybody. Just go play golf. If someone wants to stop and ask why I’m picking on them, I’m all for it. I don’t really think I’ve done anything horrific. They’re making comments and I’m replying.

“I have no problem with any of them. But please don’t bash the tour I have 43 years invested in. It bothers the hell out of me. They don’t bother me. They really don’t. They’re golfers, I’m a golfer. I respect them all. Sergio is one of the top 10 players I’ve ever seen hit a ball. But if he’s going to make comments about the tour I play, I’m going to make a comment back. If it’s offensive, I apologize. They’re on another tour. Go play, have a good time.”

The former PGA Tour players who left for LIV were banned from their old tour, so Monday was the first time they had seen each other on course this season. Some Masters participants were here over the weekend but none of the LIV players were since they had a tournament in Orlando that ended Sunday.

Current British Open champion Cameron Smith, the highest-ranking LIV player in the field at No. 6, didn’t know what to expect when he walked on the practice range Monday.

“I spent probably an hour out on the range already this afternoon,” he said. “It was good to see some familiar faces. Lots of laughs and lots of handshakes, and it was really nice. … I didn’t want to expect too much but at the same time, I kind of wanted that, not only for myself but just for the game of golf. I think there’s a lot of stuff going on at the moment that doesn’t need to be going on, especially in the media. I think it’s definitely wound up a little bit too much.

“I just think there’s too much rubbish going on, basically,” Smith said.

Dustin Johnson, the 2020 Masters champion and a LIV golfer, said this year at Augusta National doesn’t feel any different to him even though he’s on a new tour.

“I still play golf for a living,” Johnson said. “I’m here at the Masters and enjoying this week. This week’s all about Augusta. It has nothing to do with where you play at, but guys that are here, they play all around the world. Not everybody just plays on one spot. For me, like I said, all my buddies are still my buddies. Enjoy seeing them. It’s nice to see a lot of the guys because I haven’t seen them all that much. So it should be a great week and looking forward to it.”

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