AUGSUTA, Ga. — From a distance, shutters clicked madly as name placards reading “Arnold Palmer” and “Jack Nicklaus” were slid into a sign on the first tee box.
At a place teaming with VIPs, only green-jacketed members of Augusta National Golf Club like Hootie Johnson, the stoic former chairman, were allowed to stand near the tee. PGA TourCommissioner Tim Finchem and 1979 Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller had to sip their morning coffee alongside the media in a roped-off area near the clubhouse.
At precisely 7:30, cameramen, reporters and the thousands of fans who had been waiting at the gate for 30 minutes were allowed onto the course. Everyone made a beeline for the first tee in hopes of securing a good viewing spot to see Palmer and Nicklaus hit the ceremonial first tee shot to begin the 75th Masters.
“No running! No running please,” shouted the security guards.
With the first yellow rays of sunlight washing over the green Georgia pines, applause rang out five minutes later when the two champions walked to the tee, trailed by Chairman Billy Payne.
From the clubhouse’s veranda, Mark O’Meara, who won here in 1998, took in the scene. Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champ who was scheduled to play 81 minutes later, chose to continue his practice putting. “I see they moved the tees forward this morning, huh,” Nicklaus joked as he stretched his 71-year-old body. “I hope they’ll move ’em back after we get out of here.”
Looking down the fairway, Nicklaus said, “We aren’t even going to be able to hit it out of our own shadow! Look at this hole.”
But after being introduced by to the crowd by Payne, Palmer, 81, proceeded to hit his drive straight down the fairway and partially up the first fairway’s hill. The shot brought a big smile to The King’s face.
Moments later, Nicklaus teed up his ball. “Now let me get back up,” he cracked.
But the Golden Bear put a great swing on the ball and hit a draw that went 30 yards past Palmer’s shot. It rolled halfway up the hill and, like Palmer’s, finished in the middle of the fairway. Nicklaus waved for the ball to keep rolling, and even Payne seemed pleasantly surprised by the quality of Jack’s shot.
As tournament officials hustled to gather the golf balls from the fairway, Payne called out, “The 2011 Masters has officially begun.”
And then the tees were, respectfully, moved back. Tweet
(Photos: Al Tielemans/SI)