Player, Nicklaus hit tee shots while Palmer looks on


AUGUSTA, Ga. – Gary Player won his tournament early Thursday morning at Augusta National, as Jack Nicklaus likes to say.

Player clipped Nicklaus with the honorary first tee shot, sending his drive down the middle of the first fairway about 20 yards past the Golden Bear, who did catch the left edge of the fairway.

“I hit a pop-up,” Nicklaus said with a smile.

Nicklaus paused before hitting his tee shot in an emotional moment, whipping away tears as he glanced at Arnold Palmer, who announced last month that he would not be hitting the honorary first tee shot because of health concerns.

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“I don’t know whether I’ve got tears or just old,” Nicklaus said before hitting.

Palmer first hit the honorary tee shot in 2007 and was followed three years later by Nicklaus. Player joined the group in 2012.

“I think that everybody was happy to see Arnold out on the tee. I think Arnold was happy to be on the tee. I think he would have preferred to hit a golf ball,” said Nicklaus, who tried to convince Palmer to hit the first shot. “I said, ‘Arnold, when you're out there, what if you up and hit, I don't care if you putt it off the tee, I think everybody would love to have you do anything.’”

Player, who made a hole-in-one during Wednesday’s Par-3 Contest, said he has been training for the honorary shot for weeks.

“Jack’s been outdriving me for years, so this seems fair,” Player said.