Masters ceremonial opening tee shots means the Masters can officially begin

jack nicklaus, gary player and tom watson stand on the first tee box at augusta national

Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson struck the ceremonial opening tee shots at Augusta National on Thursday morning.

Getty Images

AUGUSTA, Ga. — In 1986, Jim Nantz coined the phrase “a tradition unlike any other.” The phrase has since become a tagline for the Masters and is synonymous with the year’s first major.

It’s true what Nantz said, there is no tournament quite like the Masters. Yes, other major championships have their fair share of history and pageantry, but the year’s first major will always set itself apart. From the exclusivity and secrecy of Augusta National to the pimento cheese sandwiches and azalea cocktails, there are things here that are unlike anything else in the game.

On Thursday morning, another ritual unique to the Masters kicked off the tournament — the ceremonial opening tee shots.

These ceremonial shots date back to 1963, when major champs Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod struck the opening tee balls. In the 60 years since, the list of those who’ve been honorary starters is a who’s-who of golf royalty. Gene Sarazen. Byron Nelson. Sam Snead. Ken Venturi. Arnold Palmer. Lee Elder. Each left an inedible mark on not only this tournament, but the game of golf at large. This year’s honorary starters — Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson — are no different.

When the trio of legends walked to the tee box just after 7:30 a.m., the crowd began to clap. Patrons had been in place since the gates opened a half hour before, and the crowd swelled to five and six people deep in some places by the time the starters arrived.

Player led the parade of legends and stopped to speak with members of the crowd. Behind him, Nicklaus walked alongside his wife, Barbara, who served as his caddie. Watson came next, followed by Fred Ridley and other representatives from Augusta National. Once the applause stopped, Ridley’s voice boomed over the microphone.

“Good morning,” he said. “My name is Fred Ridley, and on behalf of the membership of Augusta National Golf Club, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the 87th playing of the Masters Tournament. Thank you all for being with us.”

He continued by introducing the trio on the tee — a combined 11 green jackets and 140 Masters appearances between them — to the patrons. Then, he ceded the stage to Player.

The Black Knight tipped his cap and walked between the tee markers. After a quick practice swing and look down the fairway, he whacked his ball down the fairway, complete with an acrobatic leg kick, before picking up his tee.

Nicklaus came next, waving off a suited man offering to tee up his ball.

“I got it. I got it,” he said. “Maybe I got it.”

The crowd laughed, and then cheered, as he got his ball properly loaded up.

“That’s the hardest part of it,” he said. “I promise you.”

Watson — the newest member of this honorary bunch — proceeded to the tee next. Despite a banged-up hand from a go-kart snafu, he had no trouble sending the ball down the foggy fairway.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the 2023 Masters Tournament is now officially underway,” Ridley said. “Enjoy the tournament.”

Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at