Arnold Palmer had only one thought Thursday morning as he prepared to hit his ceremonial first drive to help start the 79th Masters.
“What was going through my mind?” he said, smiling. “Don’t fan it.”
At which point his longtime rival and great friend Jack Nicklaus chimed in.
“I don’t think he’s kidding. He said exactly the same thing to me.”
Palmer, now 85 and a four-time Masters champion, managed to get his tee shot airborne, and a five-deep crowd around the tee and down the first fairway couldn’t have cared less that it didn’t go all that far. Palmer, who did not play in Wednesday’s par-3 event, participated Thursday despite having a dislocated shoulder as a result of a recent fall at home. This week, he also celebrated the 60th anniversary of his first Masters appearance in 1955, when he tied for 10th place.
Gary Player completed the celebrated threesome Thursday morning. They all hit opening tee shots before retiring to the clubhouse and later went to the press center for a rather raucous news conference.
When reminded that 50 years ago this week the three of them were tied for the lead after 36 holes, Nicklaus wondered out loud: “What year was that? I remember what the third round was [when he shot 64 and went on to win his second Masters title].”
“I remember it,” Player said. “The wrong man won.”
Added Palmer, “I don’t remember anything.”
Nicklaus said he will always remember the 2015 par-3 contest because he made a hole-in-one at the fourth hole, his first ace of any kind at Augusta National.
“On television before, we were sort of kidding about what we were going to do today,” he said. “I said, ‘First thing to do is go out and see if you can win the par-3 tournament and then maybe you can justify it and they’ll invite us back into the golf tournament.’ One of the kids, I don’t know, somebody said something and I said, ‘We’ll make a hole-in-one for you today.’ Anyway, it went in.”
Player ended the session speaking about the longtime friendship between the men known as golf’s Big Three.
“You can have love for a woman and you can have love for a friend,” he said. “And I think the greatest word that exists in any book of note is love. I think this is what we’ve had for each other.”
CRENSHAW: NO REGRETS
Ben Crenshaw actually replaced Palmer in the par-3 contest, a fitting pairing because he is playing in his 44th and final Masters this week. The popular winner of the 1984 and ’95 Masters, he said he had absolutely no regrets about the decision to call it an Augusta National career.
“I made the right decision in so many ways,” he said. “This course is so long for me, and I probably should have stepped down a few years ago.”
Crenshaw had initially planned to play his final practice round Wednesday morning with fellow Texan Jordan Spieth, but then added a third player when he saw Tiger Woods in the parking lot and invited him to join the group for the back nine.
“We had the best time,” Crenshaw said, adding that he told Woods and Spieth as they walked along that Augusta National once had no rough.
“There’s a second cut of grass now,” he said. “I told Jordan about how there used to be cut grass everywhere and it was very interesting that way. It was one of a kind in the sense that you could hit a club on any lie and try anything you wanted. Those were the days when you could really curve the ball.”
Crenshaw struggled on Thursday, posting a 91, the worst score by six shots of his 137 rounds at Augusta National. He will play his final official 18 here Friday.
Crenshaw, 63, was not accompanied by his longtime Augusta National caddie, Carl Jackson, who had a sore rib and was not able to carry the bag. Jackson, who also is retiring after this year, was replaced by his brother, Bud Jackson, a caddie at Augusta National for 49 years.
LEISHMAN DROPS OUT
Miami’s Erik Compton had to play in a twosome with Welshman Ian Woosnam on Thursday because one of his playing partners, Australian Marc Leishman, dropped out of the tournament Wednesday, citing personal reasons.
Leishman’s wife Audrey has been seriously ill recently and has been placed in an induced coma, according to The Golf Channel.
“Thanks to an incredible team of doctors and nurses, Audrey appears to be on the road to full recovery and our two young children remain blessed to have the world’s best mum in their lives,” Leishman told the Australian Associated Press.