AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The honorary opening tee shot at the Masters is always a sentimental moment as the tournament honors past greats of the game. Yet this year’s ceremony also carried a bittersweet feel.
Clad in his green jacket, Arnold Palmer gave his patented “thumbs up” sign to the crowd gathered as he, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus stepped on Augusta National’s first tee. However, rather than hit a drive as he has every year since 2007, Palmer sat in a chair and watched intently as his friends/rivals did the honors.
Masters chairman Billy Payne introduced Palmer to the appreciative patrons, some holding out hope that the King might surprise the crowd by pulling out a driver after announcing last month he would pass on hitting the first shot. Just his presence, however, was appreciated by Payne, who asked the crowd to give Palmer a “heartfelt thank you” for all he meant to the tournament.
“The tradition of honorary starts means so much to us at Augusta National,” Payne said. "To see these wonderful gentleman is a great treat."
After Palmer’s formal introduction, Player stepped to the tee and striped his shot, appearing far younger than his 80 years. Nicklaus followed, elicited laughter by joking about how long it had been since he had warmed up. Nicklaus' shot pulled his tee shot to the left side of the fairway.
The trio then gathered for pictures, the appreciative fans getting the chance to acknowledge the living legends who had collected 13 green jackets while providing millions of memories. Including a few more on a sunny Thursday morning.