Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will welcome another longtime friend to the 1st tee at the Masters later this year as Tom Watson has been announced as an honorary starter by Augusta National.
Masters Chairman Fred Ridley made the announcement Tuesday morning in a press release, saying, “I am honored that Tom has accepted our invitation. I look forward to commemorating his love for the game and impact on the Masters with his millions of fans across the globe as he hits a tee shot alongside two of the Tournament’s other all-time greats, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.”
Watson, 72, is a fitting character for the annual duty as he led one of the more impressive, elongated careers in the history of the tournament. Watson’s Masters career spanned 43 years, where he amassed the 5th-best career scoring average (72.74) in tournament history. While his number of green jackets (2) is less than his 1st-tee compadres, both of those wins came in contention alongside Nicklaus and Player.
Nicklaus finished second to Watson in both the 1977 and 1981 Masters, by two strokes each time, which Watson remembers quite well. And when Player famously won in 1978 at the age of 42, it was only after Watson bogeyed the 18th hole to miss out on a chance of defending his title in a playoff.
“Augusta National in April is one of my favorite places to be,” Watson said. “With the many fond memories of both watching the Masters as a youngster and then competing in the Tournament for so many years, I am greatly honored to join my friends and fellow competitors, Jack and Gary, as an Honorary Starter in this upcoming Masters. In both of my victories, Jack was on my heels. And when Gary won his third Tournament in 1978, I was there to help him put on the Green Jacket. Moments like those stand out in my career, and the opportunity to share the Honorary Starter tradition with Jack, Gary and the Masters patrons will be very special.”
The opening tee shots, which began in 1963, have become an emotion-filled ceremony — whether it’s happiness, sadness, laughter, or some combination of them all. Last year’s iteration was devoted to Lee Elder, the first Black man to compete at the Masters. It was a milestone commemoration for a career devoted to the game and to fighting for human rights. It became even more meaningful in the months since as Elder passed away on Nov. 28.
The 2022 ceremony will take place on Thursday, April 7.