AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – It was a green jacket laid across a chair on the first tee at Augusta National Thursday morning.
Arnold Palmer’s green jacket.
In some ways, it felt as big as the man himself had been.
With the sun creeping over the pines and a cool wind beginning to blow, The Masters began at 7:40 a.m. with a hole in its heart.
After escorting Palmer’s wife, Kit, to the first tee, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne asked the hundreds gathered around the first tee for a moment of silence to remember Palmer, who passed away last fall.
Patrons wore round white badges that read “I am a member of Arnie’s Army,” handed to them upon entering the gates.
With Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player waiting to hit the ceremonial opening tee shots without their great friend, Payne talked about the “almost unbearable sadness” of Palmer being gone.
“It still hurts so bad that he’s not here,” Payne said.
Both Player and Nicklaus wiped away tears on the first tee and in the image that will linger, Nicklaus took off his cap, looked at the sky and waved.
It may have been goodbye.
It may have been hello.
Either way, it will never be quite the same at Augusta National.