In days long passed, Sam Snead would tell an off-colour joke that would bring down the proceedings of the annual Champions Dinner. Tom Watson broke up the gathering of past champions Tuesday night with one line about the current state of the game.

No joke.

Watson asked Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley if it would be appropriate to say something about the second gathering of Masters champions that include players from both the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League, which, of course, included guest of honour Jon Rahm, the 2023 winner who joined LIV in December. Ridley welcomed it.

“I got up and I’m looking around the room, and I’m seeing just a wonderful experience everybody is having,” Watson said. “They are jovial. They are having a great time. They are laughing. I said, ‘Ain’t it good to be together again?’ And there was kind of a pall from the joviality, and it quieted down, and then Ray Floyd got up and it was time to leave.”

Way to kill the mood.

Of course, Watson couldn’t have known broaching the subject of the fracture in golf would be such a colossal rally killer, but there it is.

The two-time champion, who once again joined Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus as honorary starters Thursday morning after the start was delayed two-and-half hours, read the abrupt ending to the dinner as a hopeful sign that soon the men’s professional game will be reunited. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

“In a sense, I hope that the players themselves took that to say, you know, we have to do something,” Watson, 74, said. “We all know it’s a difficult situation for professional golf right now. The players really kind of have control, I think, in a sense. What do they want to do? We’ll see where it goes. We don’t have the information or the answers. I don’t think the PGA Tour or the LIV Tour really have an answer right now. I know the three of us want [the game] to get together. We want to get together like we were at that Champions Dinner—happy, the best players playing against each other. The bottom line: That’s what we want in professional golf, and right now, we don’t have it.”

Nicklaus, 84, the six-time Masters champion who hosts the Memorial Tournament in suburban Columbus, Ohio, said he has purposely stayed out of the ongoing negotiations between the tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the financial backer of LIV Golf, except to ask PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about a general progress report.

“I said, ‘Jay, don’t tell me what’s going on because I don’t want to have to lie to the press and people that ask me questions,’” Nicklaus said. “I said, ‘How are you doing?’ He said, ‘We’re doing fine.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s all I want to know.’ If Jay thinks we’re doing fine, we’ll get there, I think we’ll get there. And I certainly hope that happens; the sooner the better.”

Player, the eldest of the three men at 88, was more pessimistic about the outcome of a reunification, not that he didn’t think it was desperately needed.

“It’s very simple. Anytime in any business whatsoever, not only in the golf business, there’s confrontation, it’s unhealthy,” the three-time Masters champion said. “You’ve got to get together and come to a solution. The public don’t like it, and we as professionals don’t like it, either.

“But it’s a big problem,” Player added, “because they paid all these guys to join the LIV Tour fortunes … beyond one’s comprehension, and the players that were loyal, three of us and others … now these guys come back and play [on the tour], I really believe the players [that were] loyal, should be compensated in some way or another; otherwise, there’s going to be dissension.”

Well, that will be a topic for next year’s dinner. But save it for the end.

Main Image: Jamie Squire