AUGUSTA, Ga. – Like royalty, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer made their way through a tunnel of adoring patrons on on their way to the first tee early Thursday morning to start the Masters.
They smiled and nodded under a shower of applause marching toward their first ceremonial shots together here.
They appeared to thoroughly enjoy their roles as honorary starters.
Palmer stepped up to the tee box first with a mass of patrons lined up and down the first fairway. It was 7:40 a.m. when he settled into his stance.
“Put your ear muffs on,” Palmer said as he waggled.
The ping was loud and crisp as promised with Palmer’s ball fading but finding the right side of the fairway.
“How’d you do that?” Nicklaus chimed.
“Keep your eye on the ball,” Palmer answered.
Nicklaus followed, knocking his ball past Palmer but right and into the rough.
Palmer has been hitting this first tee shot since 2007. He was on his own for three years before Nicklaus accepted an invitation to join him this year. Palmer was asked afterward what it was like to be joined by his rival and friend.
“I think it was great,” Palmer said. “If there’s anybody who deserves it, it’s Jack.”
Afterward, in the Augusta National media center, Nicklaus was asked what it was like to be a rookie again.
“Hit a rookie tee shot,” he said. “I have never been up this early at Augusta National.”
Nicklaus was asked if he thought Gary Player would be joining the duo next year.
'It's not for me to say,' Nicklaus said.
The ceremonial first tee shot tradition began in 1963 at the Masters with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod. In 1981, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen took up the tradition. Ken Venturi joined them just one time in 1983 with Sam Snead joining Nelson and Sarazen in 1984. Snead hit a lone ceremonial tee shot in 2002 and there were no honorary starter again until Palmer picked it up.