High Priests of golf turn Augusta into a temple of golf

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player lit up Augusta with their aura

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Anand Datla

April 07, 2016: There are certain moments in sport when even time stands still, swayed by the piety of the occasion and the power of the high priest. At five minutes past eight in Augusta this morning, as a mild mannered Sun shone light on the first tee box in front of the clubhouse, we stood respectfully, awed by the timeless beauty of one such moment at the Augusta National Golf Club.

The names of the Honorary Starters, Masters champion Arnold Palmer, Masters champion Gary Player of South Africa and Masters champion Jack Nicklaus are seen on a standard on the No. 1 tee during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.
The names of the Honorary Starters, Masters champion Arnold Palmer, Masters champion Gary Player of South Africa and Masters champion Jack Nicklaus are seen on a standard on the No. 1 tee during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player made their customary visit to the tee box, turning it for a few moments into the high temple of golf. The air sang a hymn, Palmer raised his thumb and at that moment, it felt as if there was no greater religion on the planet.

The three great men gave golf an aura of spirituality with their manner of playing and unprecedented accomplishments. Several other golfers might eventually overtake their numbers, but clearly not their aura. For the record, Nicklaus’s collection of six Green Jackets remains unsurpassed to this day.

Honorary Starters (L-R) Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, Masters champion Arnold Palmer and Masters champion Gary Player of South Africa pose for a photo on the No. 1 tee during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.
Honorary Starters (L-R) Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, Masters champion Arnold Palmer and Masters champion Gary Player of South Africa pose for a photo on the No. 1 tee during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.
Honorary Starter Masters champion Arnold Palmer acknowledges the members and patrons on No. 1 during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.
Honorary Starter Masters champion Arnold Palmer acknowledges the members and patrons on No. 1 during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.

Honorary starter Masters champion Gary Player of South Africa hits his tee shot on No. 1 during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.
Honorary starter Masters champion Gary Player of South Africa hits his tee shot on No. 1 during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.
Palmer was visibly frail, needing a golf cart to get to the tee box. The 80th Masters was blessed enough by his mere presence. It did not matter one bit that he wasn’t in a position to drive the ball.

Player struck the first shot, landing in the centre of the climbing fairway. Nicklaus drove slightly left, but at 80 and 76 respectively, their act also underlined why golf is a lifelong pursuit of joy and health.

The morning seemed indescribably beautiful. From the moment Palmer walked out of the clubhouse door, time stood still, leaving us soaked in a sparkling bubble of iridescent joy.

Oddly enough, as the first starters – Jim Herman and Steven Bowditch made their way to take their place at the first tee, the real event felt far less important than the ritual that preceded it.

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