AUGUSTA, Ga. — When he was playing competitively, Jack Nicklaus always had butterflies as he walked to the first tee.
But as he strode to Augusta National’s opening hole Thursday morning, that nervous feeling didn’t return.
“Today, no butterflies,” Nicklaus said. “Just happy to get the first tee shot over.”
Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player announced the grand opening of the 2014 Masters with ceremonial tee shots at 7:40 a.m. Thursday morning. Jack and Gary’s shots landed side-by-side in the fairway with the Golden Bear a few inches past the Black Knight. Arnie found the fairway, but was a little ways behind.
“I think Jack outdrove me by a yard or two,” Player said. “But that’s not bad when you think he used to outdrive me by 50. But he did hitch on a sprinkler. You didn’t see that.”
“Actually Gary and I have argued about it every year because one of us hit it left and one of us hit it right, and this year we both hit it together,” Nicklaus said. “It was pretty close.”
As fans passed through the white gates of Augusta National, they briskly walked directly to the first tee. Seasoned fans exchanged stories about the first time they saw Jack hit from that same spot at Augusta decades ago, the extent they idolized Arnold Palmer growing up and how Gary Player hasn’t changed a bit since the 1970s.
This is special.
“It’s been a wonderful journey with these two gentlemen here,” Player said as he referenced his friends seated to his left. “We went across the world. We went down gold mines together. We’ve always wanted to beat each other; we’ve never hidden that. When we did win, we congratulated the other. When we lost, we congratulated the other. I don’t think there’s ever been, if I may be so forward, not boastful, but factual, that three athletes have ever in the history of any sports been together so much across the world and had an association like we’ve had. It doesn’t exist anymore, and I don’t think it ever will.”
It’s hard to argue with Player’s point. It’s unlikely we’ll be sitting here 30 years from now watching a 73-year-old Phil Mickelson jab a 68-year-old Tiger Woods about who smuggled their green jacket out of Augusta the way Jack teased Gary Thursday morning.
The crowds dispersed slightly after Jack’s shot landed in the fairway, but a new walkway formed from the first tee back to the clubhouse so the legends could grab their green jackets before meeting with the media.
Stewart Cink waded through the crowds in an attempt to get to the first tee for his 7:45 a.m. tee time. He was greeted by handshakes and quick words of encouragement from Jack, Arnie and Gary and shook his head in awe afterwards.
Not a bad way to start his Masters week.
Not a bad way to start ours, either.
It never gets old watching the honorary starters tee off. One of the oldest and best traditions in the game.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 10, 2014