Watson said he had fielded many inquiries over the years from those wondering when he, too, would join the golfing legends to kick off the tournament. He reiterated that he didn’t feel like he belonged in the upper echelon of golf. Imagine that from an eight-time major championship winner.
“… I was overjoyed and actually humbled because the way I look at these old goats right here, I can't carry their shoes. I don't kind of belong in the same realm as these two players here."
- Tom Watson, on Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player
“(Ridley) asked me fairly quickly in the conversation, he said, ‘Tom, we really would appreciate it if you would accept our invitation to be an honorary starter with Jack and Gary,’ and I told him exactly (what I just said), I feel very humbled, I don’t deserve to be there. And he said, ‘No, we’d really like you to do this.’
“I said, ‘I’m more than happy to do it.’”
And there will be more returns to Augusta National in the official capacity.
Ridley told Watson he could serve as an honorary starter for as long as he would like. So as Watson said, he will be back “as long as the good Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise.”
The Masters honorary starter ceremony began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod. Watson said he recalls watching them when he was an amateur in 1970.
Nicklaus, 82, became an honorary starter in 2010, the eighth player to do so. Player, 86, joined in 2012, the ninth player. Along with Arnold Palmer, the Big Three kicked off the tournament until Palmer died in 2016. Lee Elder was an honorary starter last year. He died in November.
Watson, 72, became the 11th player to serve after the club made the announcement in January. Among his eight majors are five British Opens, two Masters and one U.S. Open.
Watson hit the longest tee shot, according to Nicklaus, just edging out Player. Watson quickly joked that he “got him by 50 (yards).” Always the competitors.
The three hit tee shots in a light rain. The ceremony was delayed by nearly a half hour after severe thunderstorms swept through Augusta overnight and in the early morning.
“We all hit it, and I think it was a very nice ceremony,” Nicklaus said. “For me coming up, it was kind of – not very often you see a lot of people that you know. I ran into my oldest grandson, which I didn’t expect to be here. But what really surprised me is I walked up and this fellow over the side yelling, ‘Jack, Jack.’ I took a double take. He was the best man in my wedding. I haven’t seen him for years. I thought that was pretty (cool) – 62 years ago.”