AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In his second year as the honorary starter, Arnold Palmer hit his driver about three times on the practice range, then strolled over to the first tee and swung hard.
“As a matter of fact, it went out of sight,” Palmer said. “I hit it out of sight.”
He really did. Actually, it didn’t go that far, but nobody at the tee could see it because it was lost in the fog.
First-round play Thursday was delayed almost an hour because of low-hanging clouds at Augusta National Golf Club.
Palmer’s duties as the honorary starter follow in the tradition begun in 1963 when Jock Hutchison had the honors and that became firmly established when the legendary trio of Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen were together as starters for 18 years.
For Palmer, 78, his tee shot Thursday was especially noteworthy, since it represented the 50th anniversary of his first Masters victory and his first major win.
He said it’s easy to compare that first tee shot in the 1958 Masters.
“Well, 50 years ago, it went a lot further,” he said. “But the tee was a lot further up too.
“It’s a great tradition, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm here this morning. You can feel it and you can see it and, of course, it’s something that Augusta’s been known for, and this championship is going to be one of the best they’ve ever had.”
In his record 51st Masters, the oldest player in the field, 72-year-old Gary Player, didn’t have that great a day on the course (11-over 83). But he did have a great time seeing the young people who were allowed in for free for the first time.
“The youth of today are the trustees of posterity,” Player said. “These are our future golfers.”
The Junior Pass Program, in which youths between 8 and 16 are allowed entry when accompanied by a ticket-holder, was the idea of club chairman Billy Payne.
Said Player: “It’s one of the single best things I’ve ever seen. Bring these youngsters in.”
It was a roller-coaster day for Luke Donald, who wound up with a 73 but didn’t take the normal route to get there -- three birdies in his first six holes, bogeys on two of the next three, then from the 13th through the 17th, birdie, bogey, birdie, double bogey, bogey.
“I made too many mistakes, obviously, and that was disappointing, especially to make five birdies around here [which means] you’re doing a lot of good things,” he said.
All of a sudden, it was 1988 again for Sandy Lyle, who won the Masters 20 years ago. Lyle, 50, who made his Champions Tour debut this year, was three under at the 15th tee but bogeyed three of the last four holes and finished with a 72.
Said Lyle: “It all went a bit haywire in the end.”
It may be the 50th anniversary of the term Amen Corner to describe the 11th, 12th and 13th holes at Augusta National, but Boo Weekley doesn’t get it. Weekley, who parred all three holes on his way to a 72, doesn’t agree with the description of the famous section of the course.
He said it has all the wrong numbers.
“What’s Amen Corner?,” he said. “Is it 12? Why is that a corner? It should be 12, 13, and 14, shouldn’t it? Well, you got me there.”
Jerry Kelly said playing partner Anders Hansen, who had an 80, didn’t feel comfortable on the slick greens: “He said, ‘I was shaking over every putt. I felt like Bambi on ice.’ ”