Masters Traditions: Honorary Starters

Masters Traditions: Honorary Starters
Masters Traditions: Honorary StartersThe first balls off the tee at the Masters are hit by “honorary starters,” a tradition which began in 1963. The first honorary staters were Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod—two men with ties to Augusta National.

Hutchison won two Major Championships in his golfing career—the 1920 PGA and the 1921 Open Championship. He also was the winner of the inaugural Senior PGA Championship (1937), which was held at Augusta; he won that event again in 1947. He started until 1973.

McLeod was a founding member of the Senior PGA, who played in the first four Masters. He acted as a starter until 1976.

Gene Sarazen performed the duties from 1981 until he passed away in 1999. Sarazen won the 1935 Masters with the “shot heard round the world”, a 225 yard four wood for a double eagle 2 on the par 5 15th. Sarazen also won the 1922 US Open and PGA, the 1923 PGA, the 1932 US Open and British Open, and the 1933 PGA. Sarazen is credited with inventing the sand wedge.

Byron Nelson served as a starter from 1981 to 1999. Nelson won two Masters—in 1937 and 1942. He also won the 1940 and 1945 PGA, and the 1939 US Open. He is perhaps best remembered, however, for winning 11 tournaments in a row in 1945.

Sam Snead served from 1984 to 2002. Slammin Sammy won a record 82 PGA Tour events and about 70 others worldwide. He won seven majors: three Masters, three PGA Championships and one British Open.

There were no honorary starters from 2003 to 2006.

Arnold Palmer started from 2007 to 2009.

Palmer was joined by Jack Nicklaus in 2010 and 2011.

Gary Player joined Palmer and Nicklaus from 2012 to 2016.

The passing of Palmer in 2016 left Nicklaus and Player to do the duties from 2016 – 2019.

There were no honorary starters in 2020 due to COVID.

In 2021 Lee Elder joined Nicklaus and Player. Elder passed away later that year.

Beginning in 2022, the honorary starters are Nicklaus, Player and Tom Watson.

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4 thoughts on “Masters Traditions: Honorary Starters”

  1. I see Tom Watson stepping in at some point.  He is very much into tradition and the history of the game.  Perhaps when Arnold Palmer is no longer able to serve in the role?  Of course in 20 years Tom will be 80 so he may want to start sooner.

    Fred Couples qualifies on the basis of personality and popularity.  His lifetime record pales before some of the other honorary starters but if he were willing, his selection makes sense. In 20 years he will be 70.

    Nick Faldo probably qualifies from a golfing record standpoint but he seems to have lost interest in playing at a relatively early age.

  2. Tom Watson and Fred Couples.

    Further down the line Phil. 

    Tiger perhaps.  But since it doesn’t pay anything Tiger might not be interested.

  3. I take that back.  Tom Watson at 70 will still be competing in the Masters.  5 under – lead by 2 at the end of his round.  Amazing.


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