Palmer to skip opening tee shot at Masters
ORLANDO, Fla. — Arnold Palmer will be on the first tee to help start the Masters this year — but without his golf clubs.
Palmer said Tuesday he told Augusta National he will not hit the ceremonial tee shot next month, a role the four-time Masters champion had taken on since 2007. Jack Nicklaus joined him in ’10 and Gary Player, the other member of the “Big Three,” was added in ’12.
“I plan to go out to the first tee with the chairman on Thursday morning and watch Jack and Gary sweat it out and hit the shots,” Palmer said.
The 86-year-old Latrobe native is slowing down, even choosing this year at Bay Hill not to have his news conference ahead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Instead, he took a list of questions that were submitted last week by the golf media.
“I would love to go on doing it forever, but I don’t have the physical capability to hit the shot the way I would want to hit it,” Palmer said. “So we’ll have to be content to watch.”
The honorary starter at the Masters dates to 1963 with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod. It was revived in ’81 with Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen, then went on a hiatus after Sam Snead died in 2002 until Augusta National chairman Billy Payne persuaded Palmer to hit the opening shot in ’07.
Palmer said he would attend the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night and be on the first tee Thursday morning before going home to Orlando, which has been his typical schedule the past few years. He also played the Par 3 Tournament but stopped doing that last year.
“Am I disappointed by that? Well, sure, but time moves on,” Palmer said about not hitting the opening tee shot. “I stopped playing in the Masters in (2004), I stopped playing in the Par 3 last year, and now it’s time to end this part of my Masters career.”
Palmer holds the Masters record for playing 50 consecutive years, dating to 1955 when he was the U.S. Amateur champion.
His first Masters victory was in ’58, the first year soldiers from Camp Gordon were offered free admission and helped run the scoreboards. Palmer won over the soldiers and just about everyone else with his charisma, and “Arnie’s Army” took root.
He also won the Masters in 1960, ’62 and ’64 and is one of two champions — Nicklaus is the other — who are members of Augusta National.
Nicklaus said earlier this month that Palmer wanted to go with him to play in the members-only Jamboree this week, even if he were to just walk around with Nicklaus with a putter and a wedge. Palmer later declined because of his PGA Tour event at Bay Hill.