'I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It' - A Morning Like No Other At Augusta National

Watson pokes fun at his old friend as Michael Weston takes in one of The Masters' great traditions

Jack Nicklaus starter Masters
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Of all the cherished Masters traditions, the honorary starters has always been one that has tended to pass me by. ‘Did you watch Jack & co get things started this morning?’ I can’t recall watching one live before, the reason being that as much as I love everything about The Masters, I’m not a morning person. ‘No, I was sleeping.’

Not today. This is the first time that I’ve covered the event on site, and watching Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson get proceedings underway was an opportunity that I was not going to miss, even if the 7.40am tee off time came rather inconveniently bang in the middle of breakfast.

After shovelling down a plate of eggs and some fresh fruit (I’m already monitoring how many famed Masters sandwiches I consume), I joined a stream of journalists heading out to the first tee. There, at approximately 7.20am, and before patrons were admitted to the course, the tee was surrounded and about five people deep. Ten minutes later it was ten, and then 25-deep by the time Player’s head bobbed into view.

By now, the patrons had moved into position in a stealth-like manner, clutching their green seats and eyeing up the perfect spot in which to nail down their chairs for the day. A voice is raised giving approval for the throng of fans to take their positions - and then they move.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Picture a lion stalking its prey. The rules at Augusta National during Masters week are well publicised, with running a strict no. As a result, what you see if a mass of people speed walking, badly. It's all rather ungainly, and pretty amusing.

All three players are on the tee now. Nicklaus, a six-time Masters winner and The Masters' tenth Honorary Starter - which is quite a record in itself - has his wife Barbara by his side. He holds onto her lovingly, but also for actual support. He wouldn’t appreciate anyone saying so, but he looks a little fragile.

Player, the victor here in 1961, 1974, 1978, strikes one crisply down the middle of the fairway – fairly impressive given his 87 years. Perhaps we'll hear from him later on how he manages to still hit such a long ball. 

Nicklaus is next. Someone pops a tee in the ground for him, but Jack’s having none of it. The poor tee guy looks embarrassed. Nicklaus tees the ball up himself, has a couple of waggles and follows Player (roughly) down the middle.

Michael Weston Masters

Our man on the ground, Michael Weston, at The Masters - 11'o'clock from the top of Nicklaus' head (gray cap)

(Image credit: Future)

I’m right behind the great man as he returns to his wife and caddie, so close I could reach out and pat him on the pack. A headcover comes out with these words on: 'I love the game of golf. I love my country even more'. The patrons show their warmth, too. There is a lot of love for Jack here. 

“Looked like a pull hook,” quips Watson, who then steps up, swishes away and completes the ceremonial tee shots for another year. Watson wins the best turned out award for his pink Ralph Lauren ensemble. He does not, however, gain tee shot bragging rights. It’s a floaty push to the right and if they were going to complete this hole, he’d definitely be looking at a five or worse.

"You can’t do that after saying that to Jack," responds someone nearby. Touché. It’s all good natured, of course, and all three pose for more snaps to add to the collection. It’s a wonderful tradition and a super way to kick things off.

Michael Weston
Contributing editor

Michael has been with Golf Monthly since 2008. As a multimedia journalist, he has also worked for The Football Association, where he created content to support the men's European Championships, The FA Cup, London 2012, and FA Women's Super League. As content editor at Foremost Golf, Michael worked closely with golf's biggest equipment manufacturers, and has developed an in-depth knowledge of this side of the industry. He's now a regular contributor, covering instruction, equipment and feature content. Michael has interviewed many of the game's biggest stars, including six world number ones, and has attended and reported on many Major Championships and Ryder Cups. He's a member of Formby Golf Club.