Thursday, April 08, 2010

Jack And Arnie: A Very Cool Start

It was crisp and clear Thursday morning at 7:40 when Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus met on the first tee at Augusta National.

And it was very cool.

As the ceremonial golfer he vowed years ago he would never become, Nicklaus joined Palmer for the first time as an honorary starter at the Masters. Hundreds of patrons gathered around the first tee and on the gentle hillside nearby to get a glimpse of Nicklaus and Palmer together.

After being introduced by club chairman Billy Payne, Palmer -- wearing blue pants and a pink shirt -- teed up his golf ball then glanced at the crowd and jokingly said, "Put your earmuffs on."

Palmer then made his familiar lash at the ball, sending his tee shot down the right side of the first fairway where it eventually rolled into the rough. It didn't matter where it stopped. It was the cheers that mattered.

When it was Nicklaus's turn to hit, he looked at Palmer and asked, "How'd you do that?"

Palmer answered, "Keep your eye on the ball."

Nicklaus smiled then smacked his own tee shot into the distance. Like Palmer, his ball settled in the right rough. A security guard then hustled out and kicked one of the balls about 15 yards further down the fairway.

"I hit a rookie tee shot," Nicklaus remarked afterward. "As long as we didn't hear it land, that was okay."

Nicklaus estimated he and Palmer have played at least 500 rounds of golf together. While they have been great rivals on the course and in business, they have been friends for decades, often flying together to play exhibitions and teaming to win a number of two-man events.

"We've played at least a year together," Nicklaus said.

This was different.

Having played 45 Masters, winning a record six, Nicklaus moved into a new role as an honorary starter. With his granddaughter, Christie, serving as caddie, Nicklaus seemed to embrace the role despite his 7:40 tee time.

"I've never been up this early at Augusta," Nicklaus said

Having attended the champions' dinner Tuesday night, played the par-3 event with Palmer and Gary Player on Wednesday and helping start the Masters this morning, Nicklaus planned to be far away by Friday.

He'll be fishing in the Bahamas, he said. The boat has a television and in the evening, Nicklaus said he might check to see what''s happening at the Masters.

It got off to a very good start.