I was 10 years old when I saw it for the first, and what would turn out to be the last, time. My father had taken me to The Masters during an age when you could get tickets from any number of friends or family members with one phone call and some spare change. Ours came from a cousin who lived in town and worked for The Augusta Chronicle.
I slept for most of the three-hour drive from our home in the Georgia mountains to the gates at Magnolia Drive. Dad had insisted that we leave early to be there when the gates opened. I had no idea why.
Even as a kid the wonder of the place was breathtaking. After passing through the turnstiles, we walked around back to the first tee and the giant oak, not as big then as it is now but a looming presence still. That is when I saw them: two old men, one in knickers with a touring cap and the other wearing an old-style fedora, the kind my grandfather wore to go fishing. I had no idea who they were, but I realized something important was going on, so I wriggled my way near the ropes on the first tee to get a good view.
That was the last time Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod acted as honorary starters of The Masters. Neither ever won the event, in part because they were past their primes when the tournament began in 1934. In fact Hutchison, the 1920 PGA Champion, who beat J. Douglas Edgar in a thrilling final, won the inaugural Senior PGA Championship at Augusta National in 1937. And McLeod, the 1908 U.S. Open champion, won the Senior PGA there in 1938.
I knew none of this when I watched the two old men peck tee shots off the first tee to wild applause, unsuitably exuberant for the quality of the drives.
But the shots themselves were irrelevant. Both men could have topped it and nobody would have cared. It was the tradition, the connection to the past that brought the patrons out in droves.
The same thing happened this morning with even larger crowds, television cameras and three elder statesmen of the game instead of two.
Nobody knows how long Arnie, Gary and Jack will hit the ceremonial first tee shots at Augusta, just as no one could have predicted that 1973 would be Jock’s final spring in the sun.
But somewhere in the crowd this morning, there was a 10-year-old who saw some legends walking out to thunderous applause. He probably had no idea why these geezers were so celebrated, but he knew something important – something historic – was happening.
From experience I can tell him, it was a moment he will remember for the rest of his life.