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Posted April 06, 2016 04:04 pm
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Honorary starters part of Masters majesty

Game's greats part of scene in first round
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    Honorary starters part of Masters majesty
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    Gene Sarazen (right) tees off to open the 1999 Masters, as fellow honorary starter Sam Snead watches.
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    McLeod
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    Jock Hutchison, left,and Fred McLeod weren't Masters champs but did win another event held for two years at Augusta National.
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    Sarazen
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    Demaret
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    Ford
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    Hardin
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    Keiser
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    Tom Watson receives the green jacket from Seve Ballesteros after winning the 1981 Masters, the first with bentgrass greens.
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    Honorary starter Gary Player watches his tee shot on No. 1during Thursday's first round of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 5, 2012, in Augusta, Ga. (Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff) Click for high resolution image.
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    Honorary starter Arnold Palmer's tee shot to open during Thursday's first round of the Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National, Thursday, April 7, 2011, in Augusta, Ga. .Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
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    Honorary starter Jack Nicklaus tee shot to open Thursday's first round of the Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National, Thursday, April 7, 2011, in Augusta, Ga. .Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff Click for high resolution image.

For a shot that doesn’t even count in competition, it might be the most nerve-wracking swing a golfer can have: the honorary tee shot to start the Masters Tournament.

With the first tee ringed with thousands of patrons, a “who’s who” of golfers has performed the unique task on Thursday morning of Masters Week. The current lineup is Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

The tradition formally began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod starting the tournament together.

“Leading off the Masters is the greatest honor we can ever have,” Hutch­ison said in a 1963 interview. “I would rather do this than win a tournament.”

Hutchison continued as an honorary starter through 1973, then quit because of declining health. McLeod carried on the tradition through 1976.

When Masters Chairman Hord Har­­din revived the tradition in 1981, he went back to two of the tournament’s earliest winners: Byron Nel­son and Gene Sarazen.

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.

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.

In 1984, three-time Masters winner Sam Snead joined the festivities. 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.

The ceremony went on hiatus from 2003 to 2006. Then club and tournament Chairman Billy Payne persuaded Arnold Palmer to hit the tee shot in 2007, and Nicklaus joined him in 2010. The addition of Player in
2012 brought golf’s Big Three full circle.

Palmer didn't hit a tee shot in 2016, but he did make an appearance on the first tee alongside Nicklaus and Player. The four-time Masters winner died Sept. 25, 2016 at the age of 87.

HONORARY STARTERS

The nine golfers who have served as honorary starters have won a collective 57 majors, including 19 Masters:

​Golfer - Majors - Masters - Wins - Years as starter

Jock Hutchison - 2 - 0 - 1963-73

Fred McLeod - 1 - 0 - 1963-76

Byron Nelson - 5 - 2 - 1981-2001 (nonconsecutive)

Gene Sarazen - 7 - 1 - 1981-99

Ken Venturi - 1 - 0 - 1983

Sam Snead - 7 - 3 - 1984-2002

Arnold Palmer - 7 - 4 - 2007-2016

Jack Nicklaus - 18 - 6 - 2010-present

Gary Player - 9 - 3 - 2012-present