Augusta National Golf Club announced overnight that Tom Watson will become an Honorary Starter beginning at this year’s Masters in April.
A two-time winner of the green jacket, Watson will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for the opening tee-shot ceremony.
“I am honoured that Tom has accepted our invitation,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters. “I look forward to commemorating his love for the game and impact on the Masters with his millions of fans across the globe as he hits a tee shot alongside two of the tournament’s other all-time greats, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.”
Added Watson: “Augusta National in April is one of my favourite places to be. With the many fond memories of both watching the Masters as a youngster and then competing in the tournament for so many years, I am greatly honoured to join my friends and fellow competitors, Jack and Gary, as an Honorary Starter in this upcoming Masters. In both of my victories, Jack was on my heels. And when Gary won his third tournament in 1978, I was there to help him put on the green jacket. Moments like those stand out in my career, and the opportunity to share the Honorary Starter tradition with Jack, Gary and the Masters patrons will be very special.”
Watson won his first Masters in 1977, birdieing the 17th hole to ultimately beat Nicklaus by two shots. He again bested Nicklaus by two (along with Johnny Miller) to capture the 1981 title. He also came in second three times. During a 15-year stretch starting with his 1977 win to 1991, Watson finished T-7 or better on 11 occasions; his “worst” outing in that stretch was a T-14.
Watson made 42 consecutive appearances at Augusta National. Only Nicklaus has more total under-par rounds, with Watson holding the record for most consecutive years (21) with at least one under-par score. His 72.74 scoring average is fifth best in tournament history.
The tradition of Honorary Starters at the Masters began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod – players who won the PGA Seniors’ Championship at Augusta National in 1937 and 1938 – starting the tournament with ceremonial tee shots. Other players who have been Honorary Starters include Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Ken Venturi, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Player and Lee Elder.
The 2022 Masters begins on April 7. Hideki Matsuyama is the defending champion.
PHOTO: Kevin C. Cox