ORLANDO — Arnold Palmer has struck his last shot in the Masters Tournament, ending his participation in an event that, more than any other, is associated with the charging, go-for-broke style that contributed greatly to his unparalleled popularity.
The four-time Masters champion said Tuesday that he will travel to Augusta National Golf Club next month for the traditional Tuesday night Champions Dinner, but physical limitations will prevent him from hitting the first ceremonial tee shot on Thursday morning to kick off the 80th Masters.
Palmer, 86, also will not play in the Par-3 Contest. He did not play last year due to a shoulder injury he sustained in December 2014.
“I called the chairman, Billy Payne, and informed him that I have resigned from hitting the ceremonial first-tee shot,” Palmer said Tuesday from Bay Hill Club & Lodge, where he is hosting the 38th Arnold Palmer Invitational. “He expressed regret that I couldn’t do that, but he was pleased that I would be present. I am going to attend the Champions Dinner and then go home on Thursday, which has been my usual schedule the last few years. I plan to go out to the first tee with the chairman on Thursday morning and watch Jack [Nicklaus] and Gary [Player] sweat it out and hit the shots.”
Palmer, who played in 50 Masters, has been the honorary starter since 2007, a tradition the club formally began in 1963. He planned on watching the tournament from his home in Florida. “I never miss it,” he said.
But he admitted he’ll miss having some kind of participatory role. He has not swung a golf club in six months.
“Am I disappointed? Well, sure, but time moves on,” he said. “I stopped playing in the Masters in 2004, I stopped playing in the Par-3 [Contest] last year, and now it’s time to end this part of my Masters career. I would love to go on doing it forever, but I don’t have the physical capability to hit the shot the way I would want to hit it. So I’ll have to be content to watch.”
Palmer first appeared in the Masters in 1955, qualifying after winning the U.S. Amateur the previous year. Having turned professional in late 1954, he competed as a professional at Augusta and opened with a four-over-par 76. His closing 69 enabled him to climb into a tie for 10th place with Byron Nelson and Dick Mayer.
He won his first Masters in 1958 when he defeated Doug Ford by a stroke and added three more green jackets in 1960, ’62 and ’64. The last of those represented his final major championship. He also won the 1960 U.S. Open and the 1961 and ’62 British Open.
Palmer, who made his last cut in 1983, ended his competitive career at Augusta National in 2004, having played in a record 50 straight Masters. Gary Player made 52 Masters appearances, though not consecutively.
With Palmer stepping aside, six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus is likely to hit the first tee shot April 7. He joined Palmer as an honorary starter in 2010. Player completed the presence of “The Big Three” on the tee box in 2012, though Palmer retained the honor, followed by Nicklaus.
Jock Hutchinson and Fred McLeod were the first honorary starters in 1963. Neither won the Masters, but they were selected due to winning the first two Senior PGA Championships, which were held at Augusta National in 1937 and ’38. Only nine men have ever filled the role. Palmer’s appearance ended a four-year suspension of the tradition after the passing of Sam Snead following the ’02 Masters.