PGA Dinner Like No Other


04 PGA ChampionshipHAVEN, Wis. -- The only players invited to dinner are former champions, so it is exclusive company. The defending champion decides the menu, and the evening is filled with laughs, stories and memories.
It sounds like the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night at Augusta National.
But the Masters champions don't get a a pair of Ostrich cowboy boots; or a print of the ninth hole at Riviera, each one signed by Ben Hogan; or an electric guitar.
The PGA Championship is building a tradition all its own with a Champions Dinner that has turned into a contest to see which winner can outdo the other.
Shaun Micheel might have come up with the most unique night of all.
For the meal, he had Rendezvous Ribs from his home in Memphis, Tenn., come up to Wisconsin to give 17 former champions a taste of the South. Then it was time to open the presents.
Micheel got each of them a Gibson electric guitar, and they posed with them for a photo like none other. But unlike the boots (courtesy of Rich Beem) or a personalized magnum of Berringer Wine (Davis Love III), it wasn't easy to make practical use of this gift.
John Daly was the only guy who knew how to play, and he complained that the guitar wasn't tuned. Someone in the house took care of that, and Daly put on a show that went past midnight.
Micheel, who grew up a KISS fan and still goes backstage with the heavy-metal rockers, is learning.
'I was with my friends from KISS last week,' he said. 'The guitar player and the lead singer were both trying to give me some guitar lessons, so my first song I'm learning is 'Kumbaya.' That's only two chords, and I have not quite figured out how to do that.'
'I wanted to start a little more advanced,' Micheel said.
PGA champions have been gathering for a pre-tournament dinner for years, but the PGA of America decided to jazz things up 10 years ago. They gave players a budget for dinner and a gift (the Masters champion is responsible for all costs), and there have been some interesting selections.
Steve Elkington served lamb chops and gave everyone a Gerrard's bracelet for their wives. Vijay Singh chose a miniature Wanamaker Trophy on a mahogany base. David Toms stayed with his Louisiana roots, bringing the champions an alligator belt with a sterling buckle.
Tiger Woods had two cracks at a gift.
As the defending champion in 2000, he gave everyone four-image clock from the time zones where each of the majors were played that year - Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Valhalla. A year later, he gave the PGA champions a personalized humidor.
Woods didn't get too elaborate with the food - filet mignon and Dover sole one year, sushi and teriyaki the next.
Toms also was the first PGA champion to spare no expense on the meal. He brought a crew from Emeril's Executive Chefs for some New Orleans style cuisine.
Beem followed by inviting the chef from Cafe Central in El Paso, Texas, to cook Tex-Mex.
The dinner, always a nice occasion, is a big change from when Jeff Sluman was defending champion in 1989.
'The PGA took care of the dinner and had a nice money clip for everyone, or something like that,' he said. 'There wasn't even a slide show. A few people got up and spoke, and it was done very well.
'Now,' he said, 'it's totally different.'
What was the worst gift he got at a PGA champions dinner?
'There's are no bad gifts, because you're there,' said Sluman, who won his PGA title at Oak Tree in 1988.
The biggest difference - besides the exotic gifts - is that a former Masters champion rarely misses the dinner. Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd or Jack Burke Jr. aren't always likely to show up at the PGA Championship.
'It has a relatively short history,' Love said of the PGA dinner. 'When it started out, it didn't have all of the different things going on now.'
The biggest change this year was something that doesn't happen at Augusta National.
Wives were invited to the dinner - but they didn't get their own guitar.
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