Gary Player is looking forward to his reunion with fellow Big Three members Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus next week.
That it comes on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club as all three hit ceremonial tee shots to open the Masters Tournament makes it that much more special.
“We had a great camaraderie of friendship, which was great, and of course we wanted to beat each other,” Player said in recalling the hard-fought battles against Palmer and Nicklaus. “We were great friends. We traveled around the world trying to promote golf.”
Palmer, the elder statesman of the Big Three, revived the tradition of honorary starters in 2007. Nicklaus joined him in 2010, and Masters and Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne announced last summer that Player would join them this year.
Player, a three-time Masters winner, admits he’ll have to get his nerves under control for Thursday morning’s opening ceremony.
“There will be a little bit of tension, teeing off,” he said. “Just a little bit of nervousness.”
The tradition began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod, a pair of major championship winners, starting the tournament together. By the 1980s, the rite of spring had evolved with the trio of Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson all hitting opening tee shots. Former CBS analyst Ken Venturi filled in one year.
Each of the Big Three has earned his place in Masters lore:
• Palmer was the first four-time winner and helped popularize the game in the late 1950s when television coverage expanded.
• Nicklaus is the only six-time winner at Augusta and holds the record for oldest champion at age 46 in 1986.
• Player was the first international champion and holds the record for most starts with 52.
From 1958 through 1966, only one golfer other than Palmer, Nicklaus or Player won the Masters.
“It was a wonderful time,” Player said. “That’s why it’s so nice for the three of us to tee off together at Augusta in April because we’ve grown up together, been together, competed together and raised money together, so it’s going to be nice.”
Gary Player (from left), Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus dominated the sport in their prime. Combined, they won 34 majors, including 13 Masters Tournaments. A look at the accomplishments of all the Masters’ honorary starters.
Jock Hutchison 2 majors , 0 Masters wins
Fred McLeod 1 major, 0 Masters wins
Byron Nelson 5 majors, 2 Masters wins (1937, 1942)
Gene Sarazen 7 majors, 1 Masters win (1935)
Ken Venturi 1major, 0 Masters wins
Sam Snead 7 majors, 3 Masters wins (1949, 1952, 1954)
Arnold Palmer 7 majors, 4 Masters wins (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964)
Jack Nicklaus 18 majors, 6 Masters wins (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986)
Gary Player 9 majors, 3 Masters wins (1961, 1974, 1978)
Total: 57 majors, 19 Masters wins