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The Masters: Elder, Nicklaus and Player continue honorary starter tradition

The Masters: Elder, Nicklaus and Player continue honorary starter tradition

Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to continue the long-standing honorary starter tradition on Thursday morning to mark the start of the 2021 Masters Tournament.

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Elder, who became the first black man to compete in The Masters 46 years ago, joined Nicklaus and Player as a guest for the first time in this year’s tradition, which started back in 1963.

News of Elder assuming the role of Honorary Starter alongside Nicklaus and Player was released last November, announcing that he would be joining the two former Champions who had previously spent years sharing the honour with Arnold Palmer.

Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, said the honour would “recognize (Elder’s) courageous life and commemorate all he has done in his career to help eliminate barriers and inspire Black men and women in the game of golf and beyond.”

Elder, now 86, had been deeply moved by the gesture, and was incredibly emotion about the experience.

"I certainly want to say thank you so very much for this great opportunity," said Elder, who was joined by special guests, that included his family, a group of Black PGA professionals, and representatives from Paine College – a place where Augusta National has established scholarships in his name, and that is also bestowing on him an honorary degree.

"For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in. 

"It is certainly something that I will cherish for the rest of my life because I have loved coming to Augusta National and playing here the times that I have played here with many of my friends that are members here, and at the request and invitation of Buzzy Johnson, who has also had me. 

"But to me, my heart is very soft this morning, not heavy soft, soft because of the wonderful things that I have encountered since arriving here on Monday and being able to see some of the great friends that I have made over the past years, especially like these two gentlemen that are here. 

"We have competed against each other, and we have certainly enjoyed a lot of pleasant moments. I just want to say thank you so very much to have me here. It's a great honour, and I cherish it very much, and I will always cherish it, and I want to thank the chairman for extending me this great privilege."

honorary starters masters 2021

Sharing his own sentiment about the morning, Nicklaus said it was both a nice, and the right thing to do.

"I think that having Lee there was the right thing to do, a nice thing to do," he said.

"I told Lee, if he could hit it, hit the tee, there's no way in the world he wouldn't outdrive me, and he said, No, and I said, Well, then I get you by three yards because you didn't hit. 

"It's always a nice experience to open up the Masters, and Gary and I have had the privilege of doing that for a few years. It's fun. I walked on the tee, and Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson were there, and I said -- they said, How you doing? I said, I'm doing fine. I said, Let me know if you can see the golf ball because if you can see the golf ball it means I've gone beyond the bottom of the hill when I hit it, it means I hit a really long one, maybe 130 yards. I could see the ball.  It was good. 

"But Gary hit a nice tee shot, and I slopped it out there somewhere. But anyway, it's always a nice experience, and it was great to share that first tee with Lee and Gary."

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Gary Player added the moment was an historic one for him, having shared memories over the years with Elder in very different circumstances.

"A very historic moment for me," said Player. 

"I've had the privilege of having a great friend and a man that I admire so much in Jack Nicklaus, the greatest gentleman that ever played golf, without a question. 

"With Lee Elder, who experienced a lot of things that I experienced in my life, not to delve into them to any extent, but in 1969 I think it was -- as we get older, we don't remember all the intricacies and details, it was in that year that I invited Lee Elder to come to South Africa, and it's quite sad to think that in those days, with the segregation policy that South Africa had, that I had to go to my President and get permission for Lee Elder to come and play in our PGA. Quite sad. 

"But things have progressed since we had that wonderful man Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders the world has ever had. 

"Lee Elder came down, and he was put under an enormous amount of pressure by people in this country, mainly Black people, understandably, and I was called a traitor. Lee Elder on his way to South Africa won the Nigerian Open, came to South Africa, played in our PGA, got standing ovations. 

"We then went on to other venues and he and his wife Rose at that time visited universities and really contributed to the country a great deal. You can imagine at that time in history how encouraging it was for a young Black boy to see this champion playing, and then of course with Tiger Woods coming on, it was just absolutely fantastic for the people of any colour around the world. 

"It always amazed me that presidents of the United States would be giving these different awards to athletes for their athletic prowess, and here was a man that changed the lives and changed and put a spoke in the wheel of segregation in South Africa and was never given the awards that he actually duly deserved. 

"He got the Bobby Jones Award, which Jack and I were there, and to be bestowed upon and be given this award here today, which he deserves so richly."

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