Palmer More Than Ceremonial

By Associated PressApril 5, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There were so many memories, so much going through his mind.
The job of the gray-haired man in a light blue sweater on this chilly spring morning was to stick a tee in the ground and hit a shot down the first fairway. Arnold Palmer had done it so many times before he shouldn't have had to think twice about it.
This was different. Because now Palmer's thoughts drifted back to another era, a simpler time.
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer gives the crowd a thumbs up Thursday morning. (WireImage)
The years came rushing back.
He remembered the time he first came here as a starstruck college student to watch names like Snead, Hogan and Nelson. The time when he first teed it up in the Masters and Gene Sarazen was his playing partner. The time the president of the United States wanted to play golf with him the morning after he won a green jacket.
So many memories.
It was just one tee shot, one swing of the driver. Somehow, it seemed to mean so much more.
'Whoever thought that 60 years later, here we are,' Palmer said.
He's an old man now, with stooped shoulders and a face weathered by years in the sun. His once massive army has been reduced to a collection of fellow senior citizens who were as happy to see him as they were glad they didn't have to leave their folding chairs on the first tee to follow him down the fairway.
This was one place he hadn't expected to end up. The Masters had ceremonial starters before, but they were all players from another time and, well, they were all old.
Now he was old too, and if he needed any reminding, all he had to do was look around the interview room and see the large picture of himself looking young and vibrant in a sweater nearly a half century ago.
If he needed a second reminder, it came when he bent slowly to put a tee in the ground just like he had done so many thousands of times before.
'I can still bend over, anyway,' Palmer said, drawing a chuckle from his geriatric army.
He's 77 now and, like many his age, life has settled into a quiet routine. Most days he wakes up around 6 a.m., puts on the coffee, tosses a leash on his dog and goes out for a walk.
This morning would be different.
He was back at a place where he thrilled so many with his swashbuckling style on his way to four Masters titles, a place he left with some bitterness after a brief tiff with the former chairman over whether he could still play or not.
Much to his dismay, it turned out Palmer couldn't play anymore. But Hootie Johnson still lost that battle in the court of public opinion because he was going up against The King, a man who turned on millions to the game of golf and made it cool before Tiger Woods made it even cooler.
He thought about those times in the 24 hours leading up to his ceremonial first tee shot. He thought about how much this golf course and tournament meant to his life.
'A lot of those things came to my mind,' Palmer said. 'I just was reminiscing and thinking about how much Augusta has meant in my life, right up to today.'
He had been thinking about becoming the ceremonial starter for a few years now. It used to be a fixture, but the Masters hasn't had one since Sam Snead died five years ago.
With a new chairman on board, this was the time. And Palmer also understood that time might be running out.
'I didn't want to get up and die before I did it,' Palmer said. 'Getting to my age, at some point you've got to think about that.'
There was nothing riding on this tee shot, unlike the 50 other drives he had hit off the first tee on Thursday morning of previous Masters. Still, Palmer wasn't going to take any chances.
He took two drivers to the range, hitting about 20 balls before picking the one he would swing. Then it was off to the first tee, where his arrival was announced by a wave of applause that began at the clubhouse and spread to the course.
The familiar glint was in his eye, and he posed for pictures with new chairman Billy Payne. He joked to Payne that if he hit it well, he might play 18.
A chilly breeze blew into his face as long, early-morning shadows framed the famous opening par 4. Around him, fans streamed into the course hoping to catch a glimpse.
Palmer put his tee into the ground, addressed the ball and looked down the fairway.
'Sure is beautiful, isn't it,' he said to no one in particular.
He then hunched over in a familiar stance, waggled the club and swung. His confidence wasn't what it once was and he had been afraid he would top it.
But he struck it solidly and the ball headed toward the left rough about 200 yards away.
The crowd applauded, and Palmer smiled his familiar smile. On the tee, pictures were taken and hands were shaken.
Now, his day was over, and it was time to head back in the clubhouse.
Another memory had been made.
And the Masters had officially begun.
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    By Ryan LavnerJune 25, 2018, 1:12 pm

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    What's in the bag: Travelers champion Watson

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 12:22 pm

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    Driver: Ping G400 LST (7.6 degrees), with Grafalloy Bi-Matrix Prototype X shaft

    Fairway wood:  Ping G (13.2 degrees), with Fujikura Tour Spec 8.2 X shaft

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    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 12:06 pm

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    1 Bubba Watson -17 $1,260,000
    T2 Stewart Cink -14 $462,000
    T2 Beau Hossler -14 $462,000
    T2 J.B. Holmes -14 $462,000
    T2 Paul Casey -14 $462,000
    T6 Kevin Tway -13 $234,500
    T6 Brian Harman -13 $234,500
    T6 Russell Henley -13 $234,500
    T9 Chase Seiffert -12 $189,000
    T9 Bryson DeChambeau -12 $189,000
    T9 Anirban Lahiri -12 $189,000
    T12 Rory McIlroy -11 $147,000
    T12 Ryan Blaum -11 $147,000
    T12 Jason Day -11 $147,000
    T15 Charley Hoffman -10 $115,500
    T15 Patrick Cantlay -10 $115,500
    T15 Danny Lee -10 $115,500
    T15 Kyle Stanley -10 $115,500
    T19 Brooks Koepka -9 $79,000
    T19 Fabian Gomez -9 $79,000
    T19 David Lingmerth -9 $79,000
    T19 Zach Johnson -9 $79,000
    T19 Emiliano Grillo -9 $79,000
    T19 Matt Jones -9 $79,000
    T19 Jamie Lovemark -9 $79,000
    T26 Sam Ryder -8 $49,700
    T26 Si Woo Kim -8 $49,700
    T26 Richy Werenski -8 $49,700
    T26 Blayne Barber -8 $49,700
    T26 Steve Marino -8 $49,700
    T26 Peter Malnati -8 $49,700
    T26 Patrick Rodgers -8 $49,700
    T33 Alex Cejka -7 $39,550
    T33 Tyler Duncan -7 $39,550
    T33 Kevin Streelman -7 $39,550
    T36 Seamus Power -6 $35,175
    T36 James Hahn -6 $35,175
    T38 Scott Stallings -5 $30,800
    T38 Russell Knox -5 $30,800
    T38 Brandon Harkins -5 $30,800
    T38 Lanto Griffin -5 $30,800
    T42 Adam Hadwin -4 $24,500
    T42 J.J. Henry -4 $24,500
    T42 Jordan Spieth -4 $24,500
    T42 Mackenzie Hughes -4 $24,500
    T42 Brett Stegmaier -4 $24,500
    T47 Billy Hurley III -3 $17,578
    T47 Vaughn Taylor -3 $17,578
    T47 Sam Saunders -3 $17,578
    T47 Kelly Kraft -3 $17,578
    T47 Keegan Bradley -3 $17,578
    T47 J.J. Spaun -3 $17,578
    T47 Wesley Bryan -3 $17,578
    T47 Denny McCarthy -3 $17,578
    T47 Scott Brown -3 $17,578
    T56 Ryan Armour -2 $15,680
    T56 Keith Mitchell -2 $15,680
    T56 Ken Duke -2 $15,680
    T56 Justin Thomas -2 $15,680
    T56 Hunter Mahan -2 $15,680
    T61 John Huh -1 $14,910
    T61 Martin Laird -1 $14,910
    T61 Steve Wheatcroft -1 $14,910
    T61 James Driscoll -1 $14,910
    T61 Tom Lovelady -1 $14,910
    T61 Nick Hardy -1 $14,910
    T67 Daniel Berger E $14,350
    T67 Trey Mullinax E $14,350
    T69 Cameron Tringale 1 $14,000
    T69 Kyle Thompson 1 $14,000
    T69 Ethan Tracy 1 $14,000
    T72 Dominic Bozzelli 2 $13,650
    T72 Martin Flores 2 $13,650
    74 Padraig Harrington 4 $13,440