As part of a tradition unlike any other, The Masters has former champions return to hit honorary drives on the first tee to open the tournament. And the tradition continues in 2022 with one of the best ball strikers in the history of golf joining two old friends on the tee box.
This year Tom Watson joins Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in the non-competing threesome at 7:40 a.m. on Thursday morning before the first group tees off at 8:00 a.m. Watson won The Masters in 1977 and 1981, with Nicklaus a six-time winner (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986), and Player a three-time champion (1961, 1974, 1978).
Watson isn’t that far removed from being competitive himself, missing a chip on No. 18 on Sunday at Turnberry in 2009 that would have him as the Open Champion at age 59. He also finished Top 20 at Augusta as recently as 2010. Watson becomes the 11th honorary starter in the history of Augusta National.
The tradition started in 1963, when former major winners Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod teed off to begin the event. Players back then would actually play nine or 18 holes before withdrawing from the tournament, but now it’s just one tee shot to begin the event. McLeod and Hutchison would continue to open the event until the mid-70’s.
In 1981 honorary starters returned with Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen taking over the duties. Sarazen made “the shot heard round the world”, his double eagle in 1935 on the Par 5 15th, to win the event. Nelson won the green jacket in 1937 and 1942.
Ken Venturi filled in for Nelson in 1983, while three-time Masters champion Sam Snead took over in 1984. After several years without an honorary starter, Arnold Palmer took over in 2007, with Nicklaus joining Arnie in 2010, and Player in 2012.
Lee Elder, the first black player to compete in The Masters, was an honorary starter in 2021 before his passing in November of that year.