In venerable tradition, golf legends launch 2023 Masters

Honorary starters are a tradition that;'s been taking place for decades at the Masters. This year was no different.
Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 7:36 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - “The 2023 Masters is now officially underway. Enjoy the tournament,” Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley declared Thursday morning after after Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson drove the first balls as honorary starters.

Player was greeted on the tee with a smile by Masters Chairman Fred Ridley a week after the tournament’s first international champion told the Times of London he did not feel welcome at Augusta National.

Player said he had to “beg a member to play with us” when he wanted to play a round with family members,” and that “if it wasn’t for the players, it would be just another golf course in Georgia.”

Nicklaus, who walked with a noticeable limp, joked with the crowd before bending over to put his tee in the ground saying. “that’s the hardest part.”

Watson, with his shoulder still aching from a go-kart accident, joked that he didn’t use his normal hand to tee up with.

“You don’t ride go-karts at my age,” he joked. Then he added, “Yeah, you do.”

He’s told News 12 earlier about suffering shoulder injuries after riding a go-kart of a track he’d built for his grandkids on his farm.

At a news conference after the ceremony, the three were asked by reporters about some of the life lessons they’ve learned at Augusta.

Gary Player said he’s learned “gratitude that we have the opportunity to play in a tournament of this stature.”

Jack Nicklaus said he learned how to putt, after discovering that was one of his deficiencies.

Tom Watson said: “How lucky I am to be able to play a game like this ... to be able to play with and try to compete with my heroes ... the ability to play a game for a living. You all work for a living; I get to play a game for a living.”

The players also discussed at length the lengthening of the 13th hole, and whether there should be changes in balls to prevent them from traveling as far, as is being considered.


Watson noted that to lengthen the 13th hole, “Augusta National had to go in and buy the land to extend that hole; they spent a lot of money on that land. .. Now how’s that hole going to play?” He said, “I think it’s a very good thing” to create a ball that doesn’t go as far. Watson said he thinks it’s best to have a ball that’s for pros and another ball for amateurs.

Nicklaus noted that last time the ball size was changed, the old ball was grandfathered in for eight to 10 to 10 years. He said he thinks it’s “fine” to create a ball that’s just for pros and then, “Let’s see what happens.” He noted that the farther the ball goes, the longer it takes to play the game, and it’s important to keep the game length reasonable.

They were asked about the biggest changes they’ve seen at Augusta National through the years.

Watson says it’s the differences in the green.

Player said technology has driven a lot of changes, from lawn mowers to the vehicle you use to get to the course.

“The greens today are like a snooker table,” he said. “You can’t compare different eras, it’s a completely different game.”

The players were asked about stories from past Champions Dinners.

Nicklaus said he was impressed last year with Player making a speech last year in Japanese and the previous year’s winner, Hideki Matsuyama, giving a speech in English.

Nicklaus noted that despite much talk about potential tension between LIV and PGA players, there was “zero” tension at this year’s Champions Dinner. He called it “the most cordial experience” ever.

Player recalled a Champions Dinner when he had a chance to interact with Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones, complaining that he could never seem to birdie the third hole.

Jones replied: “You’re not supposed to birdie the third hole.”