AUGUSTA, Ga. — Gary Player couldn’t be too disappointed. Not when the tee shot he hit Thursday to help open the 78th Masters settled within a few feet of the one Jack Nicklaus laid down.
“It’s not bad when you think he used to outdrive me by 50,” Player said. “But he did hitch on a sprinkler, you didn’t see that.”
After the ceremonial tee shots, Player, Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were their usual expansive selves as they reflected on their long-time rivalry and enduring friendship. Even if some of the stories were retreads, the opportunity to see the Big Three interact was special, as always.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Palmer’s fourth Masters tite — and final major championship win. At one point, the trio combined to win seven straight Green Jackets and a total of 13 combined.
“It’s been a wonderful journey with these two gentlemen here,” Player said. “We went across the world. We went down gold mines together. We visited my ranch. We’ve slept at each other’s homes and our wives have known each other, and we have had a great friendship.
“We’ve always wanted to beat each other; we’ve never hidden that, but when we did win, we congratulated the other. When we lost, we congratulated the other. It’s been a special journey, and I don’t think there’s ever been, if I may be so forward, not boastful, but factual, that three athletes have ever in the history of any sports travelled together, been together so much across the world, not just in the United States, but across the world and had an association like we’ve had.
“It just doesn’t exist anymore and it never has, and I don’t think it ever will again. It’s a unique time in history, really, as far as we’re concerned.”