Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson hit at the Masters. But 1 mystery follows

Gary Player

Gary Player hits his ceremonial tee shot on Thursday at the Masters.

Getty Images

AUGUSTA, Ga. — I woke up at just after 3 in the morning.  

Then again at just after 5. 

Then again at 6:15. 

But I am not tired. No way. Not today. Not Masters Thursday. Not Masters opening day. 

But, while wonderful to you, that is secondary to me. That provides just the setting. 

I have a riddle to solve. An enigma to unwrap. 


But it was raining. 

Masters officials had said the start was to be delayed — but on Wednesday night, in a release to the reporter gang, an announcement of how long would be made first at 3 a.m. Augusta time. So I woke up then. But there was no news — outside of the Masters website now saying an update would be released at 5. So I woke up then. But there was no news — besides the Masters website now saying the first round wouldn’t start before 9. So I woke up for good at quarter after 6. I’d try to leave for Augusta National by 7:30. 

But why all the commotion? With the delays, weren’t the golf balls going to be in the air late into the day? Yes, yes, they would be. 

But I wanted eyes on the first golf balls, the ceremonial tee shots from Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson off No. 1, though not to see the legends themselves. I’d seen that before. We all have. 

But I’d never seen where the actual golf balls end up. 

Did they just sit there?

Did they disappear underground? Like some secret trap-door deal?

If sliced or hooked into the gallery, could you … land yourself a souvenir? Like a foul ball in baseball? To quote the Steve Miller Band, go on and take the golf balls and run? [Sorry.]

I wasn’t alone, either. A few of my colleagues wondered. Friends did. In 2013, a reporter had made some progress on this most pressing of subjects — some workers grabbed them, he wrote, but then they disappeared into the members’ pro shop — but we’d give it another go. The assignment would now start at just after 10:10, when the news finally came that the postponement would end. 

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I started at the 1st tee. I made 210 paces down the right side of the hole, to the start of the upslope on the hole. One person was there. A photo manager of some sort. I told him about the Masters mystery. 

“Ooh, that’s a good question. Yeah, let me know that answer if you find out.”

Will do. 

I walked another 60 paces, to about the spot where there are trees, just short of the fairway bunker. One person was there. A cameraman whose camera was pointed back toward the tee box. He said he’s had the job for five years. He said they never show if the tee balls end up poorly.  

He thought marshalls come out to get the golf balls. But he’s not sure. He was interested. We talked more. 

Me: Of the five years, have you seen anyone go left or right? 

Cameraman: “No, I think Jack’s last year was probably a lowball that didn’t look good.” 

Me: I’ll be down there. I’ll be curious. I’ll let you know.

Cameraman: “Yeah. And if they don’t get the ball, go out there and grab it!” 

Me: Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking. It’s like — yeah, the idea is ‘the unknown souvenir you can get’ if they hit it left or right. 

Cameraman: “I know, right!” 

Me: Can I just pick it up and call it good? I don’t know. Is someone going to tackle me? I don’t know.  

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Cameraman: “You know — what do they always say? Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” 

Me: Haha. Yeah. I’ll be like, yeah, I didn’t know. All right, talk to you later. 

Cameraman: “See ya.” 

I positioned myself about 25 yards ahead of the start of the upslope. 

I heard applause. Game time. Player was first. I saw a swing. I felt a rush. How would this go? It was hard to spot where the ball was against the sky — then it dropped down the middle of the fairway, about 25 yards ahead of where I was standing. Nicklaus was next. His ball also dropped into the fairway, though on the left side of it and about 40 yards short of it. Finally, Watson. Fairway, too, about 15 yards past Player. “Oh my god,” a patron said walking past. 

In the fairway, the golf balls rested. 

I waited. 

The crowd around the tee began to move. 

I waited. There’s finally movement in my area. 

Two worker types, who both appeared to be in their early 20s, went underneath the patron rope on the left side of the hole and walked toward the golf balls. Two other worker types, another one in his early 20s and one older, approached the golf balls from the right side. The three 20-somethings were assigned to the three golf balls. Each picked one up. Each inspected them. Everyone walked off to the right side of the hole, to about the spot where there was a television stand. It looked like here the 20-something worker types handed the golf balls to the older worker type. 

I approached them. 

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Me: Guys, where are those golf balls going?

Older worker-type: “Uh, tucked away. Deep, deep away.” 

Me: Where?

Older worker-type: “Never to be seen again.”

[Me in my head: What is this, “Raiders of the Lost Ark?”

The older worker-type thanked the younger crew. They thanked him back. The older worker type darted off into the trees on the right. There’s a path in that area. The younger crew started walking back toward the tee box. I followed them. 

Me: Hey, guys — I’m with GOLF Magazine — are you working for the week?

One member of the younger crew: “We work starting Monday, yeah.” 

Me: “So where — do they go to the clubhouse?”

One member of the younger crew: “I don’t know. They don’t tell us anything, but they don’t want us to speak.” 

Me: How did you guys get the job to go grab the balls? Did they tell you early in the week?

One member of the younger crew then tapped another member of the younger crew on the shoulder and said: “They don’t want us to answer questions.” 

Me: I understand, I understand. So who was the guy you gave it to?

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There was no answer.

But I had one other avenue. 

I’d ask Jack, Gary and Tom. Why not? They had a press conference. I’ve asked stranger questions. They’ve answered odder questions.  

I waited. I got the third-to-last question in. 

Me: This question is for the three of you just real quick. Do you guys have an idea what happens to the golf balls from your tee shots this morning?

Nicklaus answered. 

“We sign them and they go into a case here, I think.”

That seemed to add up. Seemed like an answer. Nicklaus then joked: 

“They certainly were not damaged. They will be all right.”

Good to know. 

Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.

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