Jack Nicklaus at the Masters but only for 1 hole

By Doug FergusonSeptember 1, 2009, 12:00 pm
NORTON, Mass. –  Jack Nicklaus has said all along he would never become a ceremonial player, and just because he will be on the first tee at Augusta National next April doesn’t change that.

Nicklaus agreed to join Arnold Palmer as honorary – not ceremonial – starters at the Masters.

The difference between those words only becomes blurred if they decide to hit more than the opening tee shot.

Nicklaus already was reaching ceremonial status in 2005 when he played his last Masters without telling anyone. Then, he played his final major in the British Open at St. Andrews with the world watching, some weeping.

Related Content

Player: Jack Nicklaus

That spring, he was asked if it bothered him that fans only wanted to see him play.

What did they come to see?

The winner of 18 majors, the benchmark of greatness in golf? Or someone who can barely reach some of the fairways?

The Golden Bear or the Olden Bear?

“I don’t think he ever wants to be looked at like a museum piece,” Brad Faxon said Tuesday.

Palmer, a four-time champion who turns 80 next week, stopped playing the Masters in 2004 and agreed to become the honorary starter in 2007. Nicklaus said that wasn’t for him, but changed his mind at Palmer’s invitation.

“He is so deserving of this honor, and thus I felt it was his time, not mine,” Nicklaus said. “Recently, I was invited by both Augusta National and Arnold to join him on the first tee, and because he enthusiastically supported the invitation, it became an easy decision for me.”

Don’t be surprised to see Gary Player, the other member of the “Big Three,” join them over the next few years.

Now would seem to be a good time to restore some tradition at the Masters, a major already loaded with it.

The practice of an honorary starter began in 1963, although it goes back even further. Fred McLeod (1908 U.S. Open) and Jock Hutchinson (1920 PGA Championship, 1921 British Open) were both in their 70s when they were assigned the first tee time in 1954 and “led the field” during the first round.

Nine years later, they became the inaugural honorary starters.

After they died – McLeod in 1976, Hutchison in 1977– the honorary starter was revived in 1981 with Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead. They often played the front nine, giving fans a glimpse of living history. No one took it too seriously, except for one time when Ken Venturi was asked to fill in for Nelson in 1983.

“We played nine holes, me and Gene Sarazen,” Venturi once said. “That might have been the best I played. I had four birdies and a bogey, and I told Gene, ‘Let’s keep going. I might be leading the tournament.’ And Gene said, ‘Are you crazy? We’re going for lunch.”’

Before long, the honorary starters were skipping holes, and it wasn’t much longer that they hit only the opening tee shot.

Sarazen once considered not even hitting the tee shot, worried that his game was not in shape. That’s when the late Masters chairman Hord Hardin said to him, “Gene, they don’t want to see you play, they just want to see if you’re still alive.”

What would be so wrong with Nicklaus and Palmer chasing after their tee shot and going at it for nine holes, or even all 18?

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” said Zach Johnson, a Masters champion who knows that nothing it out of any realm when it comes to Augusta National. “As a fan of the game, as a fan of Jack, as a player … he’s the best who ever played. You want to see him play.”

Scott Verplank played the first two rounds with Nicklaus in 1986, the year he went on to capture his sixth green jacket. He wouldn’t mind seeing Nicklaus and Palmer hit more than one shot, either.

“But only if they wanted to,” he said. “It needs to be their idea. And they would get to play the member tees.”

That isn’t the Nicklaus way, though. It never has been.

The only thing he enjoyed more than competing in majors was preparing for them. Nicklaus never played a lot of recreational golf, and he still doesn’t. His last real competition – even though it was fake – was a Skins game against Tiger Woods, Kenny Perry and Stewart Cink at the Memorial this year. Nicklaus felt an adrenaline rush that day, even though he could barely reach three fairways. Woods won on the final hole with a chip-in from 25 yards.

It was his first time playing with Nicklaus in nine years, although one thing didn’t change.

“Anyone who has ever played at the highest level always wants to play at the highest level,” Woods said.

Would the Masters turn into a carnival by having Nicklaus and Palmer play a round that doesn’t count? No. It already is the only major with a Par 3 Tournament on Wednesday, and the only major with an honorary starter.

To have Nicklaus join Palmer on the first tee is an honor, one he earned.

Anything more would be a ceremony, the one thing he disdains.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

Getty Images

Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

Getty Images

Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.