Honorary Starters: A rare honor

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Jock Hutchison (left) and Fred McLeod (right) were the first honorary starters at the Masters. Hutchison won the 1920 PGA Championship and added the British Open title in 1921 to become the first U.S.-based player to win that championship. Hutchison was born in St. Andrews, Scotland, but moved to the United States and became a citizen. McLeod, a Scotsman, won the 1908 U.S. Open. What the two had in common is that each had won at Augusta National Golf Club. Not the Masters, but the PGA Seniors’ Championship. The inaugural event was held in 1937, and Hutchison won the 54-hole tournament by eight shots. In 1938, McLeod won the tournament that had been shortened to 36 holes. He won an 18-hole playoff by two shots. The tournament was held in Augusta only those two years and later moved to Florida.
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Jock Hutchison - 1963-73
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Masters Chairman Hord Hardin revived the tradition of honorary starters in 1981. He chose two of the tournament’s greats, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen, for the opening ceremony. Nelson had earned his place in tournament lore with his stirring victory in 1937 and his playoff victory against boyhood pal Ben Hogan in 1942. After World War II he retired from competition but still played in the Masters, and he frequently played with the 54-hole leader in the final pairing, as was the custom. Sarazen hit the most famous shot in tournament history with his double eagle at the 15th hole in the final round in 1935. He won his only Masters the next day in a 36-hole playoff against Craig Wood. As honorary starters, Nelson and Sarazen hit their tee shots, then proceeded to play the first nine holes. Each shot 43. Nelson stepped aside in 1983 to tend to his ailing wife, Louise, and was replaced by two-time Masters runner-up Ken Venturi. In 1984, Nelson and Sarazen were joined by Sam Snead, a three-time Masters winner. The trio – with Nelson’s classic swing, Snead’s sharp wit and Sarazen’s unique plus-fours – made Thursday’s opening ceremony a must-see event through 1999. Sarazen died a month later. Nelson hit his final tee shot in 2001 – “OK, ball, one more time,” he said to his golf ball that morning. He died in 2006 at 94. Snead performed the ceremony by himself in 2002, but it was his last time. He died the following month at age 89.
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Byron Nelson - 1981-2001 (non-consecutive)
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Gene Sarazen - 1981-99
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Ken Venturi - 1983
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Sam Snead - 1984-2002
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Gary Player (from left), Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus dominated the sport in their prime. Combined, they won 34 majors, including 13 Masters Tournaments. Here’s a look at the accomplishments of all the Masters’ honorary starters. Jock Hutchison: 2 majors, 0 Masters Fred McLeod 1 major, 0 Masters Byron Nelson 5 majors, 2 Masters (1937, 1942) Gene Sarazen 7 majors, 1 Masters (1935) Ken Venturi 1 major, 0 Masters Sam Snead 7 majors, 3 Masters (1949, 1952, 1954) Arnold Palmer 7 majors, 4 Masters (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964) Jack Nicklaus 18 majors, 6 Masters (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986) Gary Player 9 majors, 3 Masters (1961, 1974, 1978)
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Arnold Palmer - 2007-present
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Jack Nicklaus - 2010-present
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Gary Player tips his hat during the second round of the 2009 Masters Tournament, which was his record 52nd and final appearance. He joined Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as an honorary starter in 2012.