Masters Traditions: Honorary Starters
The 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
With the passing of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player—the surviving members of the Big Three—now serve as honorary starters.
But I wonder. Who will have the stature—and willingness—to serve as honorary starters twenty years hence?