Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player start the Masters with memories of Augusta past

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Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus prepare to open the Masters. (Getty)
Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus prepare to open the Masters. (Getty)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The two legends stood at the first tee at Augusta National, preparing for the formal start of the 82nd Masters, peering down the fairway at the dew-covered grass. Behind them rose the majestic lines of Augusta’s clubhouse, and all around them stood respectful, awed patrons. And amid all this momentous grace, all I could think was … holy heaven, I am cold.

Augusta National has a way of exposing your mistakes in preparation. For golfers, that might come in the form of a failure to account for the unexpectedly tight fairways or glass-slick greens. For me, it was the failure to prepare for the 50-degree drop in temperature, one that left patrons in official Masters caps and official Masters pullovers shivering as their official Masters coffees steam in the Thursday morning cold.

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But Augusta National also has a way of keeping you tethered, like your favorite song from high school or the photos on the wall in your parents’ house. The calendar changes, but the conversations on the course remain the same – amazement at the steep slopes of this place, boasting about that investment “that’s going to appreciate tax-free,” gloating about last night’s astonishing party. It’s all a familiar pace, a familiar pattern.

Also familiar: the two gentlemen on the tee. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, now in the second year of their ceremonial moment without fellow legend Arnold Palmer, are at ease with each other and with this course in a way that only people who have known one another for half a century can be. They’re the ceremonial starters every year for the Masters, and once again, they began their familiar sequence with an applause-laden walk from the clubhouse. Friends, you have never loved anything in your life the way the patrons of Augusta love Jack Nicklaus.

On the tee, both men fidgeted with their gloves and the grips on their drivers as Fred Ridley, the new chairman of Augusta, introduced the pair as having a combined 10 Masters between them.

Nicklaus, winner of six green jackets, looked over at Player. “Did you win four?”

“I won three,” Player replied.

“Well, I know I only won six,” Nicklaus smiled, and later joked that this drive would be for that 10th green jacket.

If that’s the case, Player got that fourth green jacket, outdriving Nicklaus by a good five yards. “Don’t worry,” Player told Nicklaus as they left the tee. “I outdrive you now, but you outdrove me for 50 damn years.”

From there, it was off to the ceremonial starters’ press conference, which has become like a Rolling Stones reunion show for golf media. The two played all the hits – Nicklaus smiled as he told stories about how he stomped competitor after competitor, Player chided everyone in attendance for not working out or eating well enough, Nicklaus tweaked Augusta National in a way only he can get away with, Player talked of his favorite word (“love”) and the moral imperative of growing the game of golf. They spoke for over an hour, but if you were playing Jack-n’-Gary Bingo, you’d have filled your card in the first 10 minutes.

By the time they’d finished speaking, the weather outside had warmed up a good 25 degrees, the tournament was well underway, and Vijay Singh – of all people – was at the top of the leaderboard. As fired-up as everyone in the gallery – and, let’s be honest, most of the non-burned-out media – was about this year’s Masters, Nicklaus just couldn’t quite summon up the motivation to join in the hype.

“I don’t get excited about a lot of things at 78, except for maybe a hole‑in‑one by my grandson,” Nicklaus said, referencing Wednesday’s dramatic Par 3 moment. “But will I watch with interest and be very attuned to what’s going on.” So will we all. And no matter whether this Masters ends with a big name or a no-name shouldering into a green jacket on Sunday night, we’ll roll along with it all. Even when you know every turn of the way, the Masters is a fine, fine ride.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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