‘I want to hit a good one’: What it’s *really* like to hit a ceremonial opening tee shot at the Masters

Honorary starter and Masters champion Gary Player of South Africa plays his opening tee shot on the first tee as honorary starter Lee Elder of the United States and honorary starter and Masters champion Jack Nicklaus look on during the opening ceremony prior to the start of the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia

Gary Player helping kick off the 2021 Masters.

getty images

Ed. note: Just as Augusta National is the ultimate insiders’ club, the Masters is the ultimate insiders’ tournament. Nearly nine decades after the storied venue was founded, the Augusta Experience has remained shrouded in mystery. To unlock some of its secrets, we asked those who have been part of the experience to describe one element of what makes Augusta Augusta and the Masters the Masters. This first installment of our “What It’s Like…” series was contributed by three-time Masters winner Gary Player.


I’ve had the amazing honor, every Thursday morning since 2012, of hitting the ceremonial tee shot at the Masters, and it never gets old. As a matter of fact, I have no doubt that, once again this year, I will feel the same butterflies I’ve always felt. And I’ve been coming to Augusta National since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president!

My favorite part of the day is the walk from the clubhouse to the first tee. I’m so moved by the patrons who come out that early to cheer on me and Jack. I’m getting emotional right now even thinking about it.

People want to slap my hand and I’m happy to accommodate them. I’m so grateful for their support and for the memories I have of this remarkable tournament, win or lose. Each year, I’m more grateful than the year before.

As for the tee shot itself, I take it very seriously. This is my one shot of the whole week, and I want to hit a good one. I will practice for over 30 minutes that morning, much of it in the dark. Finally, after Chairman Ridley calls my name and I acknowledge the applause, I step to the tee and let it rip.

Player letting it rip. getty images

The ball doesn’t go very far, as you’re hitting right into the steep bank on hole No. 1. Normally my drives these days go to about 240 yards. Not bad. I’m 86 years old! And as competitive as ever. I’m proud to say that I now out-drive Jack. I know it irritates him because he’s so competitive, but he hit it way past me in our prime, so I’m glad I can now give him a little of his own medicine.

Of all the honors I’ve had in this game that has been my life, hitting the ceremonial tee shot at the Masters ranks right up there. I can’t see stopping any time soon.

With reporting by Michael Arkush.

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