TULSA, Okla. – Tuesday’s past champions' dinner at the PGA Championship felt distinctly surreal with last year's winner Phil Mickelson opting out of both the championship and the annual dinner.
Mickelson found himself at the center of a growing divide in professional golf when he was quoted on the Fire Pit Collective website criticizing both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, which is threatening to create a rival league. Lefty said at the time he was stepping away from the game and hasn’t played since.
At the PGA Championship, he would have hosted the past champions' dinner, picked the menu and provided gifts to those in attendance. Instead, those duties fell to the PGA of America.
“It was a fun evening. Phil was not missed,” said Dave Stockton, who won the 1970 and ’76 PGA Championships. “I think Phil would have been a big distraction. The story here this week is the PGA.”
Stockton was instrumental in reimaging the past champions' dinner that’s now largely limited to only former PGA champions. The new tradition started last year at Kiawah Island and appears to have resonated with the players.
“At Kiawah last year we had I think six or seven people in the room besides just players, and like we did last night, we sat around and they can't separate us out because there's so many players, former champions, that it was unbelievable,” Stockton said. “We ended the night, and everybody stayed. I think it blew the PGA officers away.”
Tuesday’s dinner included Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer, Padraig Harrington, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Mark Brooks, Jeff Sluman and Stockton.