AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters is filled with remarkable photo opportunities, but as we were reminded Thursday just after daybreak, the ceremonial opening tee shots, a tradition that began in 1963, might be the most special moment of all.
At 7:43 a.m. Eastern Time, the doors to Augusta National’s stately clubhouse swung open, and a boisterous applause ensued as the day’s three honorary starters, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, 13 green jackets among them, made their way to the first tee.
Player entered teeing arena first and the 77-year-old gave a playful — and remarkably flexible — high kick to the crowd. Jack and Arnie weren’t far behind with smiles and waves.
Augusta chairman Billy Payne emceed the show, and Palmer was given the honor to play first. In recent interviews, Palmer, now 83, has taken a self-depreciating stance about his golf game. As the crowd fell silent, he took a practice cut and glanced at the fairway, which was under a sunless morning sky, and quipped, “I wish it were a little foggier,” which cracked everyone up. Then he piped his drive down the middle and punctuated it with a fist pump.
Player was called next, and the Black Knight took one practice cut before ripping one up the right side, just over the crest of the hill. Silky smooth. He looked like he could’ve gone on and played 36.
Nicklaus, 73, was the anchorman. He stepped up, took a wobbly warm-up cut and groaned to his friends, “You guys took practice swings?” He loosened up with several more before finally stepping in and drilling one up the left side. “We had to wait nine minutes after we hit balls at the range,” he said shortly afterward, “and that’s a long time for us.”
But before leaving the tee, Jack had one final plan to orchestrate. He called out to his friends Gary and “AP,” gathered the caddies and lined everyone up between the tee markers for a group shot. Credentialed photographers clicked away. The rest of the crowd leaned in and stamped into their minds an image to last a lifetime.
Those are the best photographs of all.