AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Danny Willett's first Masters champions dinner is not going to be about Danny Willett at all, and that's fine with the defending champion.
Willett won the 2016 Masters, and under normal circumstances, he would be the focal point of Tuesday night's annual dinner. However, these aren't normal circumstances. This is the first Masters since the death of Arnold Palmer, one of the sport's defining icons and four-time Masters champion.
Willett doesn't mind ceding the spotlight Tuesday to Palmer, he said. Palmer, 86, died in September while awaiting heart surgery.
"I think it's going to be lovely, honest," he said. "His presence here and in golf in general has been phenomenal, unprecedented really. Nobody else has come close to doing what Arnie has done. I think that all the stories that guys are going to come out with and the great memories they have of him are going to come out."
Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, who serves as emcee for the champions dinner, confirmed this week that he plans to turn the proceedings over completely to Palmer stories. And leave an empty seat in Palmer's honor.
"It's going to mostly be about Arnold," Crenshaw said. "It's just hard to believe he's not here having meant so much to this place. He touched us all."
Bubba Watson, the 2012 and 2014 Masters champion, is going to steal his wife Angie's story to tell of Palmer yelling a loud hello to her from the second floor of the Masters clubhouse.
"He just yells out, 'Angie, Angie.' Every time we come to Augusta, she tells that story and that memory of where she was and where he was," Bubba Watson said. "He always treated people with the utmost respect and love."
Palmer won the Masters in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964.
"We can count on our hands how many people have actually influenced the game like that, and maybe two people that come to mind," Watson said. "The game of golf is in mourning. We know it's going to happen, but you never want your greats to disappear."
Nick Faldo showed up at Augusta National on Sunday wearing gray golf shoes and slacks and a dark blue Arnold Palmer signature polo shirt.
"I didn't pick it by accident," Faldo said. "I'm wearing his clothes all week, especially the Par 3."
Faldo isn't going so far as to wear Palmer's trademark pink shirt this week but says he has a "fancy gray outfit" for the Par 3.
"I haven't got a pink one. I've got a salmon one. Gray was his other color, wasn't it?"
Faldo, the 1989, 1990 and 1996 Masters champion, also is looking forward to the champions dinner, he said.
"I think we will probably have an amazing dinner," he said. "I'm sure there will be stories of emotion, laughter, having a dig. We'll be celebrating what he did for golf. It's going to be pretty cool."
Palmer's absence will be felt most by the Masters patrons on Thursday morning at the tournament's ceremonial first tee shot. Palmer's last actual tee shot was two seasons ago. Last year, he didn't feel up to the task of putting a ball in play but showed up for the ceremony to be introduced along with Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
"My first memories of watching Augusta, I always remember Mr. Player, Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Palmer hitting the ceremonial first tee shots," Willett said. "I know that that's going to be something pretty emotional to not have him there on the first tee with the other guys."
This article is written by Josh Kendall from The State and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
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