Competitive but cordial honorary starters launch Masters 2022

Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 9:36 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - In a ceremony delayed 30 minutes by early morning rain, three honorary starters launched the 2022 Masters Tournament.

Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson served as honorary starters in a ceremony that launched the 2022 Masters Tournament.

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Despite a drizzle, patrons were eager to see the golf legends in person as they started the first full-scale Masters Tournament of the pandemic.

Sporting rain jackets and carrying umbrellas, patrons briskly made their way onto the grass as soon as the ropes were pulled back a few minutes before the ceremony.

“No running at Augusta National,” a security staff member politely said. No one broke the rule, though, with the patrons maintaining their brisk and steady pace on the slippery grass to get a good viewing spot behind the ropes at Hole No. 1.

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Player, the three-time Masters champion who has long been an advocate of physical fitness, was first to play. And Watson, part of the ceremony for the first time, couldn’t resist having a little fun with Player as he headed to the tee.

“Is he going to do a push-up?” Watson asked.

Player responded: “I did while you were asleep this morning.”

Nicklaus, the six-time champion, was next to play, quipping that he would be surprised if he could put the tee in the ground without falling over. “Yes! It was successful,” he said, drawing more laughter.

And then the stage was set for Watson, who won the first of his two green jackets 45 years ago. He tipped his cap when his introduction from Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley was complete, then asked if he could say a few words.

“I would like to say how honored I am to be with Gary and Jack,” Watson said. “I’ve watched this ceremony many times in the past ... and to be a part of this thing, I’m truly humbled.”

Watson is now the 11th person to have served as an honorary starter at the Masters. After he swung away, he joined Nicklaus and Player for an embrace.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the 86th Masters Tournament is officially underway,” Ridley said. “Enjoy the tournament.”

The three got back together in a news conference after the ceremony.

“I felt honored to be out there,” Watson said.

“I was immensely honored and deeply humbled” to be asked to be an honorary starter

“It’s part of the heritage of the tournament that I very much like.”

Player alluded to the enthusiasm of the patrons eager to see him.

“They’re not supposed to run here, but they come in the gate this morning dying to run,” Player said.

Player said he felt “a great sense of gratitude to be here at 86 years of age and still be teeing off.”

He noted that despite their fierce competition, the three remain great and humble friends.

“There’s a sense of entitlement on this planet today, and we’re not entitled to a damn thing,” he said.

A reporter asked them who hit the ball farthest in the ceremony, and they all laughed.

“We all hit it,” Palmer said, pointing at himself and his cohorts. “One-two-three.”

They paid tribute to one another.

“Grit is what Gary Player is all about,” Watson said.

Of Nicklaus, he said: “Jack was best player to take the element of risk out of every shot he played.”

Player said Tiger Woods’ phenomenal career is far from over as the golf superstar returns in full force to the sport in earnest this week at the Masters a year after suffering debilitating injuries in a car accident.

“There’s no reason why Tiger shouldn’t come back and win majors,” Player said.

The outspoken Player took shots at those who have criticized golfer Phil Mickelson, who bowed out of this year’s Masters after drawing criticism over comments he’d made.

Player said we’ve become a very critical society, and it’s a shame.

“He makes a mistake, which every one of you in this room has made a mistake. ... Even the Lord God will forgive you of you iniquities if you ask,” Player said.

“He should go on with his life,” Player said. “I think it’s pitiful.

“He said terrible things, but we all make mistakes.”

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