Shortly before 8 a.m. eastern on Thursday, April 10, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will gather at the first tee of the Augusta National Golf Club to begin the 2014 Masters Tournament.
Between them, this trio has won 13 Masters and they have also garnered the time-honored title of Honorary Starters for the Masters, which starts in just two weeks with practice rounds.
The tradition of the honorary starter began in 1963 with the first two winners of the Senior PGA Championships, Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod. The pair had the first tee time for 10 years, until McLeod continued solo for an additional three years. After a brief hiatus, Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson resumed the tradition in 1981; then Ken Venturi stepped in for Nelson two years after that. One year later, Sam Snead joined Sarazen and Nelson as honorary starters for the next 15 years. Of the 2014 triumvirate, Arnold Palmer became the lone honorary starter in 2007. Jack Nicklaus joined him in 2010, followed by Gary Player in 2012.
Arguably the most acclaimed of the honorary starters, Palmer, 84, Player, 78, and the 74-year-old Nicklaus will tee off together for the third time this April. Both Palmer and Nicklaus competed 50 times each in the Masters; Palmer’s accomplishments will be honored in the new Golf Channel documentary, Arnie that premieres the night of the 2014 Masters final.
Gary Player competed 52 times in the Masters and is one of only five winners of a career Grand Slam. Player now designs golf courses through his company, Gary Player Design –over 350 worldwide, in fact. A fitness fanatic, Player hired Mr. Universe as his trainer in 1965, helping him beat Jack Nicklaus to clinch the U.S. Open and win all four major tournaments –the Grand Slam.
Player and his magnificent 3,500-acre ranch in South Africa were recently featured in the Wall Street Journal, where he built a showcase nine-hole course that features 200 rock steps climbing up to a set of golf tees. “If I’m golfing with guests and there’s a tie at the end, we climb the steps and tee off at the first, eighth and ninth greens,” Player tells reporter Marc Myers. “The ball that’s closest to any of the three holes wins. Trust me, it’s a tough way to lose.”
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