Jack Nicklaus saw the shadows stretching across the first tee yesterday morning at the Masters as he and Arnold Palmer prepared to start the tournament with ceremonial tee-shots. "I saw all those shadows and I said, 'I don't know if we can hit out of our shadows,'" Nicklaus said.
As usual, they came through. In a Masters tradition that never gets old, thousands of fans gathered around the tee and lined both sides of the fairway to watch Nicklaus and Palmer hit tee-shots to get the 75th Masters under way yesterday.
Palmer, the 81-year-old with four Green Jackets, hit his shot to the base of the hill in the fairway. Then came Nicklaus, the six-time champion who turned 71 in January, pounding a shot at least 30 yards beyond Palmer.
They represent more than just 10 Green Jackets. As they warmed up on the practice range, Palmer noted that he first hit shots at Augusta in 1955. Nicklaus arrived in 1959 to play the Masters as an amateur.
"That's 56 and 52 years. That's a long time," Nicklaus said of the 108 appearances between them.
The tradition of the honorary starter is one that has been around since 1963, and there was a time when the starters hit more than just an opening tee-shot. However, one shot was all Nicklaus wanted to hit.
Palmer walked off the tee and headed upstairs in the clubhouse to have breakfast. Nicklaus held court under the oak tree, as he often does, for about five minutes.
"It's still kind of fun to whop it off the first tee and be part of a great event," said Nicklaus. "I'd like to go back to some time when I could play," he added about the 25th anniversary of his most famous Masters success. "Twenty-five years later, I'm not playing very much and I'm not playing very well. You stand on the first tee and say, 'Hey, I used to be here.'"
Nicklaus, whose 1986 triumph extended his Masters record to six Green Jackets and took his all-time leading haul of major titles to 18, said he had not lost his competitive fire after all these years.
"I hope not, that's what keeps you alive. At least I hit the ball on the face. That was pretty good," he said, quickly adding that one shot was enough for him on tournament day. "I was quite happy to take my glove off after that tee-shot."
There was a time when Nicklaus, golf's greatest champion with those 18 majors, did not like the idea of anything related to ceremonial golf. But he realises now that he stopped being competitive around a decade ago. He waited a few years so that Palmer could have the honorary tee-shot to himself, but he is happy to be a part of it now.
"I don't have any objection to it," Nicklaus said. "I'm having a good time with it. People enjoy it. It's Augusta's way of honouring its past champions and people such as Arnold and myself. It's really quite nice that they allow us to do this."
As for the rest of the week, will he be sticking around to watch whether Tiger Woods can roar back to glory or whether any of the British challengers can triumph among the azaleas? No, Nicklaus is going fishing.
"I'm not going to sit around and watch a golf tournament," he said. "I'll come in and watch in the evening. But it's not like there's going to be business happening this week. Anyone in the game of golf is here. I can go sit in an office and wait for no phone calls, or go fishing. And that's what I'm going to do."