The morning sun peeked through the pine trees exactly on cue, casting a soft glow on the first tee and lighting up the sign that posted the players’ names.
Arnold Palmer. Gary Player. Jack Nicklaus.
The Big Three were together again at Augusta National, walking out in that same order to a steady applause. The King, dressed in gray slacks and a short-sleeve shirt despite a slight morning chill, had the honors. He took his familiar practice swing and waggle and then found the fairway with his drive.
“Yes, sir. Yes, Sir,” said Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. “Well played, Arnie.”
Next up came Player, trim as ever in his traditional black outfit. He belted a line drive that would be the longest ball of the three.
Nicklaus, wearing a bright yellow vest, followed. He stood behind his ball and eyed the distant fairway as if he were still competing in the Tournament. At address, he waggled a couple of times and then made his classic pregnant pause over the ball before drawing the club back. He, too, split the fairway with his drive.
This was the first time that golf’s so-called Big Three shared the duties of Honorary Starters. It was Player’s first time, which might have seemed long overdue, but don’t forget that he simply wouldn’t stop competing, ending his Masters career in 2009 after a record 52 starts.
“It was a great thrill, having had this wonderful relationship, great friendship with Arnold and Jack for a long, long time and having traveled extensively around the world together. We've even cried together, and we've laughed together, and we've had good times,” Player said.
Between them, they won 13 titles – Nicklaus six, Palmer four, Player three – and their legendary duels at Augusta National echo across generations.