Arnie's Army comes out to salute the 'King'

Thu Apr 7, 2016 3:22pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Crowded around Augusta National's first tee, 'Arnie's Army' was out in force to salute their leader on Thursday as Arnold Palmer's ceremonial first shot to open the Masters was limited to an honorary appearance.

Too frail to perform his duties, the 86-year-old Palmer looked on longingly from a white lawn chair as the two other members of golf's 'Big Three', longtime rivals and friends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, soldiered on without him to get the year's first major off to an emotional start.

After striking his shot, Nicklaus, tears welling in his eyes, helped Palmer to his feet as the 'King', the 'Golden Bear' and 'Black Knight' posed for the traditional first tee photograph while roars echoed through the tall Georgia pines.

"I think that everybody was happy to see Arnold out on the tee," said the 76-year-old Nicklaus. "I think Arnold was happy to be on the tee. I think he would have preferred to hit a golf ball.

"I talked to him at the Masters dinner. I said, 'Arnold, when you're out there, what if we just take you up and had you hit? I don't care if you putt it off the tee, I think everybody would love to have you do anything.'

"So this morning I talked to him and I said, 'What do you want to do?' He said, 'I'm good.' I said, 'Fine, let's leave it alone.'"

A fixture and charismatic presence at Augusta National for over six decades, four-time Masters champion Palmer has been rarely seen on the club grounds this April.

Tom Watson, who is playing his 43rd and last Masters this week, filled in for Palmer at Wednesday's Par-3 contest as a partner with Nicklaus and Player.   Continued...

Apr 7, 2016; Augusta, GA, USA; Honorary starter Arnold Palmer gives a thumbs up as he is seated along the first tee during the first round of the 2016 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports