AUGUSTA, Ga. — With all due respect to Eddie Pepperell, Masters weekend didn't officially begin with his opening tee shot on Saturday, but moments later. "Fore, please," the first-tee starter bellowed. "JEFF KNOX!"
And there he was donning a light-green Augusta National polo and a dark-green Masters hat. PHEW. The previous night a report had circulated through Golf Twitter that the Augusta National member who has played the role of playing marker at the Masters since 2003 was passing the torch to someone else. Thankfully, that report was wrong. The Jeff Knox Era is still ongoing, folks. And we are all witnesses.
"Should we forget about the rest of the tournament and just watch the marker?" one patron asked.
It's not a bad idea. I was thoroughly entertained watching this straight-hitting, short-game wizard for 18 holes two years ago. Knox couldn't quite take down Jason Day, who enters this weekend tied for the lead, on that occasion, but the unofficial King of Augusta has toppled vaunted foreign powers like Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia since assuming the role of marker when an odd number of players make the cut.
Knox's reputation has caused players like McIlroy and Justin Thomas to seek him out for local knowledge on the country's most famous course. And that reputation has also clearly spread to those standing outside the ropes at the year's first men's major.
"It's the same guy!" another patron exclaimed upon hearing Knox's name announced. Then he turned to a buddy and said, "There are a ton of stories on him. He's kind of a legend."
Excuse me? "Kind of?"
Knox drew a larger response from the gallery than Pepperell, then more cheers when he striped his first tee shot down the middle. The 56-year-old from Georgia and his English playing partner of exactly half his age chatted the entire way to their golf balls. Well, to Knox's ball that is. Pepperell's wound up on the same line, but more than 50 yards ahead. At a rain-softened 7,475 yards, Augusta National will be playing extra long from Knox, who holds the course record (61!) from the members tees.
Knox's approach found the front fringe, but his long putt finished about 10 feet away. When he just missed his par attempt, there was an audible gasp from the several hundred fans already assembled around the first green some five-and-a-half hours before Day and Francesco Molinari tee off in Saturday's final pairing.
"He said he was nervous on the first tee," Day told me after his clash with Knox in 2017, "and in my head I'm like, I'm kind of nervous because I don't want to let my marker beat me."
Pepperell finds himself in that position today. And although he parred the first to go 1 up, there's still plenty of time to get schooled by the Georgia Golf Hall of Famer. Hopefully, the Masters rookie is taking notes.