Gary Player, who will join Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as Honorary Starters at the 2012 Masters, said Augusta National Golf Club is a living history lesson and he is thrilled that he will once again be in the company of his long-time friends.
"I couldn't think of a greater place in the world for the three of us hitting off together," Player said. "I just love the Masters. It's special, special, special. And we're all going to be there together, as comfortable as old friends can be, enjoying each other's smiling faces."
Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, announced today that Player would participate along with Palmer and Nicklaus in the role of Honorary Starter, a tradition that began in 1963.
"As an Honorary Starter, his legacy will be rightfully celebrated alongside two of the Tournament's other all-time greats, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus," Payne said.
Player, a three-time Masters champion in 1961, 1974 and 1978, said his last triumph at Augusta National Golf Club was likely his favorite Masters moment.
"I was so fortunate, shooting 64 on Sunday to win by a stroke," he said. "And I'll never forget the seven birdies in the last 10 holes."
Player also said he had a great deal of admiration for Bobby Jones and recalled a conversation they enjoyed one day in the locker room.
"I said 'Mr. Jones, I've always wanted to ask you something. The third hole, when the flag is on the left, I can never birdie that hole.' He sort of bent over and he said 'You're not supposed to birdie that hole.' And of course, he was right. Par is very good there."
Player always seemed to be very good at the Masters, which he, Palmer and Nicklaus dominated for a period. They won seven consecutive Masters between 1960 and 1966. In addition to his three victories, Player was runner-up twice and finished in the top 10 a total of 15 times. His 52 appearances in the Masters is a record, two more than Palmer.
"It's certainly appropriate that Gary will be joining Jack and me on the first tee at Augusta next April," Palmer said. "It will be great fun to have the three of us together again kicking off the 2012 Masters at a club and course that mean so much to us and our careers."
They were known as golf's 'Big Three' and the combination of Player, Palmer and Nicklaus accounted for 13 Masters titles, a record six of them by Nicklaus.
"Gary, Arnold and I each have such fond and special memories of our experiences at the Masters," Nicklaus said. "Collectively, we have many cherished memories of the years we competed together, traveled together, the time our wives and families spent together, the laughs we shared and the friendships we forged.
"As an international champion and someone I have said might be, pound for pound, the best player in the game's history, Gary has done so much to grow the game around the world . . . so it is only fitting that Gary have an opportunity to step on the first tee and be celebrated by the appreciative Augusta National patrons."
Player made his first appearance in the Masters in 1957 and except for when he was injured in 1973, he played every year until he stepped away from the competition in 2010. His victory in 1961 enabled him to become the Masters' first international champion.
He regards his role as an Honorary Starter as the next step in his long association with the Masters Tournament.
"It's such a big honor," Player said. "I love the Masters so much and I've tried to be an ambassador for the Masters around the world from the first time I played there. The Masters has been a very integral part of my career.
"And now, obviously, to be with my two good friends, Arnold and Jack, it's so meaningful because we traveled around the world and tried to promote golf and the Masters."
Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod were the first to serve as Honorary Starters, and the list of the others who have taken part in the custom is filled with such stars as Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Ken Venturi and Sam Snead.
Player said he doesn't expect to be nervous when he stands on the first tee to signal the beginning of the Masters competition.
"I'm already looking forward to it, particularly being with my two good friends," he said. "We were always fierce competitors, we wanted to beat each other and that was a healthy thing. But it was more than just golf. It was a great friendship and respect for each other as well. It still is."
A written recap and video highlight presentation of the 2011 Honorary Starter Ceremony can be found by clicking here.