AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jack Nicklaus set the ball on the tee, stepped back, and looked out at the fairway in front of him.
“Oh boy,” he said. “If only to do this for real again, huh?”
Nicklaus‘ tee shot followed Arnold Palmer’s and Gary Player’s as the Big Three served together as honorary starters for the third year in a row. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Palmer’s last Masters Tournament win.
As a group, the three combined for 147 Masters Tournament appearances, with 13 wins. They also won seven years in a row, from 1960-1966.
Each seemed pleased with his tee shot. Palmer, 84, gave a fist pump and Player, 78, added a little leg kick with his celebration.
“I think Jack outdrove me by a yard or two,” Player said. “But it’s not bad when you think he used to outdrive me by 50.”
Said Nicklaus: “It was such a great thrill, every time we teed it up to actually play for real. I think we’d all love to wind the clock back a few years and play, because it was such a great tournament and great thrill to stand on that first tee, have the butterflies and get that first tee shot out of the way and get going. [Thursday], no butterflies, just happy to get the first tee shot over.”
When they were asked how much longer they would be involved in the ceremonial start, Palmer said he would continue to participate in the tee shot as long as he’s asked to do it. Nicklaus, 74, agreed, saying, “there’s your answer.”
Six-time Masters champion Nicklaus said he initially didn’t have a desire to be an honorary starter, as he thought Palmer deserved the spot. But that changed when Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne asked him to take part. Player was then asked and joined in 2012.
“It’s been a wonderful journey with these two gentlemen here. We went across the world. We went down gold mines together. We visited my ranch. We’ve slept at each other’s homes and our wives have known each other, and we have had a great friendship,” Player said.
“It’s been a special journey, and 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 traveled together, been together so much across the world, not just in the United States, but across the world and had an association like we’ve had. It just doesn’t exist anymore and it never has, and I don’t think it ever will again. It’s a unique time in history, really, as far as we’re concerned.”