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Jack Nicklaus-Gary Player Masters tradition put on hold

Jack Nicklaus-Gary Player Masters tradition put on hold

If all were right in our world, shortly before 8 Thursday morning, with a familiar sunrise chill in the air, a tradition like no other would be taking place on the first tee at the Augusta National Golf Club.

Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record six green jackets, and Gary Player, winner of three, would be serving as the “Honorary Starters,’’ striking the ceremonial opening tee shots to officially commence the 2020 Masters.

Neither will be doing that, of course, because the coronavirus crisis has forced suspension of the Masters until November.

Nicklaus is at home in Florida with his wife, Barbara, and Player, a South African, is staying with his daughter Amanda in the United States.

Based on conversations with The Post this week, both are going a bit stir-crazy, like the rest of us.

“We’re like most everyone else in America — we’re bored to tears,’’ the 80-year-old Nicklaus said. “We haven’t been doing anything but watching ‘Caddyshack’ four times, ‘Stripes’ I think twice, and I think we’ve watched ‘A Few Good Men’ twice.’’

The 84-year-old Player, a noted fitness fanatic, called this shelter-in-place period “a good time for self-reflection.’’

“Of course, I can’t stand being stuck indoors, but we have been exercising together, cooking and having meals as a family and spending quality time together,’’ he said.

Like those of us who are fortunate enough to migrate to the Masters at this time of year — I’ve covered the past 25 of them for The Post — there isn’t anywhere Nicklaus and Player would rather be than at Augusta National this week.

By now, the two legends already would have been a part of the Champions Dinner, an annual affair that takes place the Tuesday night of tournament week with past champions enjoying a menu chosen by the reigning Masters champion. And stories. A lot of stories.

“We tell stories, jokes and tease each other about the menu,’’ Player said. “We sign all sorts of memorabilia, which used to upset Ben Hogan terribly.’’

They also would have participated in the annual Par-3 Contest, which takes place Wednesday of Masters week. It was there, in 2018, that the thrill of Nicklaus’ life at Augusta took place — watching his 15-year-old grandson, G.T., jar a hole-in-one. The moment left Nicklaus, not usually the emotional type, in tears.

“On the list [of favorite Masters memories], that stands as No. 1,’’ Nicklaus said. “I loved being a Masters champion. I loved winning six green jackets. But those are things you do yourself. But when your grandson or one of your kids is doing something and they are successful at doing it, that’s far more special to you than anything you’ve ever done for yourself.’’

Thursday morning’s Honorary Starter ceremony would be the third and final of the annual traditions Nicklaus and Player would be a part of before simply sitting back and watching the tournament unfold.

Player has made no secret about his desire to outdrive Nicklaus since the Golden Bear spent his career outdriving Player and pretty much everyone in the game.

“It’s been a lot of fun until Gary started outdriving me,’’ Nicklaus joked. “It’s kind of funny, each year Gary hits the ball a little further than I do now. He plays a lot more golf; I don’t play much anymore. So, every time Gary outdrives me it’s like he now has four green jackets and then he’s got five green jackets …

“It’s a nice ceremony, a nice way to open up the golf tournament. I think people appreciate seeing Gary and me out there. And, I don’t think anybody has any idea where we hit the tee shot.’’

Player said he used to watch Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson do it for a 15-year run “and never thought I would one day do the same.’’

“Jack and I love to see who can hit it further which, while meaningless, gives us a little kick,’’ Player said.

Meaningless?

Listen to this anecdote from 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman, who’s South African and considers Player a “father figure.’’

“A few years ago, I was in the first or the second group on Thursday, and I remember when I went down to the practice area for the warm-up, Gary was there before me, and he was having a full warm-up,’’ Immelman said. “Even though he only had to hit that tee shot on the first hole, and he was going through his bag — hitting the wedges, hitting the short irons, hitting the mediums, even hitting putts.

“Then, a little while later, you see Jack Nicklaus stroll down, in his usual demeanor — he’s uber-relaxed and calm and talking to everybody and really loose about it — and he only clipped five or six balls away before going to the tee. It was a cool thing to witness. I went down on to the putting green at the first tee and watched them kick it off. Very special.’’

It’s a special moment that will have to wait until we get to the other side of this crisis and, hopefully then, resume our traditions like no others.

Source : Mark Cannizzaro Link

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