They weren’t all there, but it didn’t matter. On Monday night, 22 past champions of the ANA Inspiration (and all its various previous iterations with and without Dinah Shore), gathered in the large tent above the 18th green of the tournament course at Mission Hills for the second-annual “Champions Dinner.”
The quote marks around the event are intentional. While the gathering was smaller and more intimate than the typical Tuesday night pairings party, it is still as long way from the dinner Danny Willett will host next Tuesday night in Augusta. The Masters evening, created by Ben Hogan, still consists of only past winners and the club chairman. No wives, girlfriends, parents, club members, sponsors, agents or PR reps, and certainly no video presentations or formal interviews.
That doesn’t detract from what ANA has done on Monday night in the desert. Despite having 14 tables filled with everyone from IMG agents to, well, me and other members of the press, the event and dinner were terrific. Jane Blalock chatted with Judy Rankin and Sandra Palmer while Kathy Whitworth and Betsy King needled each other all night in a comedy-buddy routine that kept everyone at their table in stitches.
ANA Senior Vice President Hideki Kunugi visited every table and poured wine for all takers, and former tournament director Terry Wilcox, the “Poppy” of Poppy’s Pond (the nickname given him by his grandchildren) had a great chat with Morgan Pressel about the 10-year anniversary of her first major win.
Some past champions didn’t make it for obvious reasons – Dottie Pepper is getting ready to cover The Masters for CBS next week – and others missed it for reasons unknown. Inbee Park, who is in the field, didn’t show, and Annika Sörenstam, who was on site yesterday, couldn’t make it, either. But those who came, including defending champion Lydia Ko, stunning in a long orange dress, seemed to have a great time.
“Looking back at these pictures and videos from last year, I can tell I’ve gotten older,” Ko said to a few laughs and a few groans. “Hey,” she continued. “I’m almost 20. The wrinkles are on the way.”