The Par-3 contest on Wednesday is a bit of fun that sees the leading players compete against former winners on more or less even terms. No 300-yard plus drives are required, just touch and skill.
So seeing Tom Watson, a mere stripling at 68, the 82-year-old Gary Player and all-time majors record holder Jack Nicklaus, now 78, feature at the top of the leaderboard was a throwback to the 1970s, when they dominated which such style, panache and sportsmanship.
Nicklaus, winner of 18 majors, had promised his 15-year-old grandson, Gary Nicklaus Jr, known by everyone as GT, that he could take his tee shot on the final hole of the competition.
“He said sure I’d love to hit a ball, it would be fun. I said OK,'” explained the man known as “the Golden Bear”. “I said if you’re going to do that you’ll probably make a hole-in-one.
“He said that would be great. He said it might be my first hole-in-one and wouldn’t it be great to make my first hole-in-one at Augusta.”
GT, a budding young talent in the family tradition, had a few practice swings, still wearing his white caddy uniform, before sending the ball on its way.
The perfectly-flighted iron shot landed on the green and, after what seemed an age, trickled slowly into the hole.
Cue pandemonium. The patrons cheered while Watson, Player and Nicklaus took turns to embrace and share a tear or two.
“Jack was in tears and he got me choked up and Tom choked because we’re all there,” said Player.
“I have 22 grandchildren and I know what it’s like when they achieve anything.”
And how much did it mean to Nicklaus, an Augusta legend with six victories, the last of which at the age of 46 in 1986 has gone down in golfing folklore?
“I hope I’m not showing disrespect to my six Masters victories because they were certainly exciting to me,” he revealed, “but when your grandchild or your children do things, that to me is more important than what you ever did yourself.”
For the record, team Nicklaus, aided by the ace, finished four-under, with Watson winning on six-under-par.
No golfer claiming victory in the Par-3 tournament has ever gone on to win the Masters and that record is still intact as Watson had to forgo his place in the main field as a former winner two years ago.
Nicklaus and Player have long since given up their spots, acting now as the honorary starters on the first morning.
Both admit to missing their other great rival, Arnold Palmer, who last performed the duty with them in 2016 before passing away later that year, but still get a thrill from performing the task.
“We’ve been given the honor to start it out,” said Nicklaus.
“Gary actually because he’s the elder gets to hit the first shot and I follow up, and we both think it’s a great privilege to be able to do that.”
Nicklaus will be back next year, but it is unlikely GT will be on his bag . The golf legend rotates the duty among his 22 grandchildren.
News credit : Cnn