AUGUSTA, Ga. – Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus were late for their tee time, but so was daylight. The two legends didn’t show up for their 6:50 a.m. tee time until four minutes later. But there they were dressed in their traditional colors, Jack in a yellow polo and blue vest and Gary dressed in all black. It was still dark, a light mist a harbinger of impending rainfall, and a smattering of applause by the lucky ones allowed on the grounds at the first patron-less Masters.
“Nice of all of you to get up this early,” Player said. “I don’t even get up this early for my wife!”
Jack’s bag was waiting for him at the tee, and trailing just behind him was the “First Lady of Golf,” wife Barbara, dressed in white coveralls for the first time as his caddie.
“Last night I said to her, ‘I think it would be kind of fun if you would put on a caddie uniform and do that,’ and she said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do that.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you do, it’ll be fun. You’ll enjoy it. Everybody loves you, and it’ll be a treat for the people.’ So, Barbara put it on…I don’t know if I can afford to get home after her fee,” Jack joked at his post-opening tee shot press conference.
Gary struck his drive first and then after tipping his cap, Jack, who put on a golf glove for the occasion, knocked one into the dawn’s early light. He couldn’t see it, but he picked up his tee and waved as if he hit it on the screws.
“It’s grown on me,” said Nicklaus, who celebrated his 10th anniversary as one of the first tee starters at the tournament he won six times, “to be something that I’ve really looked forward to and enjoyed, and I really enjoyed today because Gary hits the ball so much further than I do now and nobody could see the drives where they went, so it was OK.”
Over at the 10th tee, Jim “Bones” Mackay readied for yet another Masters. He didn’t see any first tee times starts working for Phil Mickelson, but this year he’s looping for former PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker. Sandy Lyle, the 1988 champion who played in his first Masters 40 years ago, teed his ball up and was ready to go when Jim Hyler, Jr., chairman of the competition committee, rushed over to say that tee times had been delayed 10 minutes due to darkness. (Floodlights above the practice-putting green provided some help.)
Just before the first tee shot of the 84th Masters was struck, we heard the now familiar, “Fore, please, Lucas Glover, now driving,” and off they went.
When Lyle led off at No. 10, the first two-tee start in tournament history on Thursday, he looked up and asked, “Where did it go?” He seemed pleased to be told by Bones that it was in the short grass, saying, “I thought I topped it.”
In between groupings, Jim Nantz held court with members and media as he begins his 35th Masters at CBS. Usually, he’s coming in from the Final Four, but Nantz recalled one year (1991) where there was a week in between the two sporting events and he came out on the Sunday before Masters week just as Phil Mickelson set eyes on Augusta National for the very first time.
“He was giddy,” recalled Nantz, who walked the back nine with Mickelson as he played with his then-college coach Steve Loy and instructor Dean Reinmuth.
An Augusta member approached Nantz and invited him to climb the stairs to the 18th hole leaderboard with them, but in his infinite wisdom, Nantz asked for a rain check, realizing it might not be his best career move.
Then, almost on cue, a rumbling could be heard in the distance. The practice putting green cleared leaving only PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan commiserating nearby. Not long after, at 7:35 a.m., the horn blew, suspending play due to dangerous weather in the area. Only two groupings had teed off and nary a birdie had been recorded (but let the record show that amateur Yuxin Lin made the first double bogey of the Masters.)
The 84th Masters was underway until it wasn’t.