April 5, 2010
AUGUSTA---Another of the grand traditions of the Masters enters a new era this year. Two more of golf's immortals will tee it up early Thursday morning.
Here's a look at the history of the honorary starters.
Believe it or not, the Masters had been around nearly 30 years before the starts made their first appearance. That was in 1963, when Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod did the honors.
Hutchison was the 1920 PGA champion. Later he won the first PGA Seniors championship, held at Augusta National in 1937.
McLeod was the 1908 US Open winner and the 1938 PGA Seniors champ in Augusta. Both men were Scotsmen, and they both died in the 1970s.
Fast forward to 1981, and Byron Nelson took on the role along with another legend, Gene Sarazen, who won the Masters in '35 with "the shot heard 'round the world".
Three years later, Sam Snead joined the two, until the early part of this century. But one by one, they died, Snead shortly after the 2002 Masters.
Then, in 2007, the King revived the tradition. Four-time champion Arnold Palmer is now in his fourth year as the starter. And this year, the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, joins him. The former rivals are now friends.
"The competition was good then, and of course he came out immediately and was a major factor, as you know, on the tour," Palmer said of Nicklaus.
A major factor indeed. No one has won more Masters or major titles than Jack. For several years after ending competitive play, he was reluctant to take on the honorary role. Then Arnie and the Augusta National invited him last summer, and he called it an easy decision.
Arnold's ready for some company, brief though it may be.
"Right now, my intentions are to hit a drive, and that's it," he said. "I don't know what Jack's are. He may want to play, but he'll probably play by himself it he does."
Of course, Nicklaus is now 70. We may know this afternoon when he meets the media what his intentions are toward playing.
One this is certain: it'll be a grand time, and a never-to-be-forgotten moment.
Rounding out the history of the honorary starters: Ken Venturi did it for one year, in 1983. He'd almost won the Masters in '56 as an amateur. Now there's talk Gary Player could join Arnie and Jack someday soon. He retired last year after 52 Masters appearances. Wouldn't that be something--a Big Three reunion.