Great news from the honorary starters‘ dawn chorus 7.40am tee time: no spectators were hospitalized by wayward drives. Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus all smashed one up the fairway. Or slapped one, as it is for them these days. Shame that they don’t play at least nine holes. It’s one and done and back into the clubhouse for a second breakfast.
Asked who drove furthest, Nicklaus said: “I don’t think any of us can see that far. We can hear them all land though.” Ah, the comedian’s a (golden) bear, as they say in the Muppets. But just to prick Nicklaus’ ego, let it be known that bragging rights went to Player in the OAP’s Longest Drive competition.
Nicklaus came runner-up with Palmer bringing up the rear. All three hit it further up the hill than Tiger Woods who duck hooked his opening drive no more than 220 yards into the trees.
This quirky Augusta tradition began in 1963 but never has there been a group of ceremonial starters assembled on the 1st with more Major Championship victories between them (34) or Green Jackets (13). The ‘big three’ are golfing royalty and fans had set their alarm clocks for an early rise to stand 10-deep around the tee box behind the old colonial style clubhouse on a steamy blue sky Augusta morning.
Each of the Hall of Famers had an air of twitchy intensity. No one wanted to duff it or carve it into the galleries. Palmer was first away, knocked it down the middle, and high-fived Augusta National chairman Billy Payne. Phew! Follow THAT, fellas. Player was next up and took an extra practice swing.
Jack was the anchorman and sucked in one last deep breath. Job done, get the coffee on. Kudos to Phil Mickelson, too, who turned up resplendent in his Green Jacket to watch the legends send the 76th Masters on its way.