04.06.17 | Kevin W.

A New Start

For the first time in six decades, the Masters will start today without Arnold Palmer on the grounds. Ever since that day in late September when he passed, I wondered what would happen and what those first tee shots will be like without Mr. Palmer at the tee box. While last year he was not able to to hit a shot, he was still there, and as sharp as ever according to everyone. This year though there will be a large void felt when only two balls lay in the first fairway tomorrow morning.

Palmer's tee shot in 2015

Palmer's tee shot in 2015

The club is also taking an unprecedented step already by honoring Palmer by distributing "Arnie's Army" buttons to every patron on the grounds something they have never done before. I am sure tomorrow we will see a very emotional crowd at 7:40 AM when Jack and Gary hit the long ball to kick-off the season's first major. It will also be live streamed for the first time ever on the Master's website and thru their app.

The History

No other major starts the way the Masters does, and the history of this tradition is as rich as any other. It began in 1963, with Fred McLeod and Jack Hutchison neither of whom were Masters winners. Both though had won the Senior PGA Championship when it was held at Augusta National in the 1930s. Hutchison served in the position until 1973, and Mcleod until 1976.

Before the start of the 1969 Masters.

Before the start of the 1969 Masters.

The tradition then faded away for four years until it was renewed by Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen in 1980. The duo was joined by Sam Snead in 1984, and the trio remained a constant for 15 years. They would also do more than just a drive, usally playing nine holes. The first to leave was Sarazen in 1999, who hit his last shot in April and then passed away later in the year. Nelson stepped down at the age of 89 in 2001, and before his last shot he was overheard saying, "Come on, little white ball, just one more time." Snead took his last drive in 2002, as he passed away that May.

Snead, Sarazen, Nelson and Chairman Jack Stephens before the 1998 Masters.

Snead, Sarazen, Nelson and Chairman Jack Stephens before the 1998 Masters.

Now we are at the start of "The Big Three Era" which began in 2007, five years after Snead's last drive. Palmer renew the tradition, and would hit alone for the first three years. He was joined by Nicklaus in 2010, and then two years later Gary Player filled out the group.

Player, Palmer and Nicklaus on the tee in 2012

Player, Palmer and Nicklaus on the tee in 2012

Future Starters?

It will be interesting to see if anyone takes Arnie's spot next year. Personally, I think that Tom Watson (67) would be a great addition as a two-time Masters winner (1977, 1981) and could help carry the tradition onward without a lapse. Here are some other potential starters.

Ben Crenshaw: 67 | 1984, 1995

Bernhard Langer: 59 | 1985, 1993

Sir Nick Faldo: 59 | 1989, 1990, 1996

Fred Couples: 57 | 1992

Phil Mickelson: 46 | 2004, 2006, 2010

Tiger Woods: 40 | 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005

I would not be surprised if Tiger became a starter before Phil did. Though it remains to be seen if Tiger can even hit a driver. Couples is probably a long shot with only one Masters win, but I feel that he is a crowd favorite and a very likable guy. Seve would have been perfect to addition to the group had he not passed away in 2011 from a brain tumor. His age would have filled in to the gap we have now. Plus, he has the pedigree with two victories in 1980 and 1983.

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