Apr 05, 2018: For all the rich flavor and savory sentiment that blankets the Masters Tournament, you’d be hard-pressed to say that the end isn’t the most compelling.
But is there any doubt that the beginning is the most poignant?
Likely, that will prove true Thursday morning when at 8:15 Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will arrive at the first tee to officially commence the 82nd Masters. For Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, it will be his 10th straight year as Honorary Starter; for Player, who is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his third and final Green Jacket, it will be his eighth time in the privileged role.
Yes, they will own the spotlight for these opening tee shots, but the truth is, they also own our hearts. Such is the aura that surrounds this Masters tradition that made its debut in 1963 and has continued every April, save for two four-year stretches (1977-80; 2003-06) without an Honorary Starter.
It wasn’t until the 27th Masters that the tradition began, and when you examine the list of Honorary Starters, it resonates: six former champions (Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Player) combined for 19 Green Jackets. But what sometimes gets lost in the shine of that list is that the men who were the first to be Honorary Starters – Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod – are owed their own piece of Augusta National history, too.
That’s because each of the Scottish-born major winners (Hutchison won the 1920 PGA Championship and 1921 Open Championship; McLeod triumphed at the 1908 U.S. Open) not only participated in the Masters, but won the PGA Seniors’ Championship which was held for two years at Augusta National.
In the 1937 inaugural, Hutchison shot 223 for 54 holes to win by eight. A year later, McLeod was tied after 36 holes of regulation with Otto Hackbarth, then won the playoff, 80-82.
No Green Jackets came with those victories, but Hutchison and McLeod did participate in a combined 27 Masters, the last in 1962, and were considered treasured connections to the past. It was an easy decision for Masters Tournament officials to incorporate Hutchison and McLeod as Honorary Starters in 1963, as “by tradition, they have opened competition for years,” reported the Associated Press.
That was the year that a strapping 23-year-old from Ohio, Nicklaus, won the first of his record six Masters. For sure, it was a compelling end that year, Nicklaus edging Tony Lema by one.
But those who were in attendance would tell you the beginning was poignant, thanks to Hutchison and McLeod starting such a rich tradition.