Looking Into the Future of Honorary Starters at The Masters

Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus gathered on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club this morning and teed off the 2014 Masters as honorary starters.

It's the third year the "Big 3" have been together in the role. Palmer's been doing it since 2007, Nicklaus joined him in 2010, and Player made it three in 2012.

How long might these guys continue in the role? I'm not trying to be morbid — believe me, I hope all three of these legends are around as long as possible — but Arnie is 84 years old, Player is 79 and Nicklaus is 74. (Hard to believe, isn't it?) Of course, Gene Sarazen served as Masters honorary starter until the ripe old age of 99!

But eventually, we'll have to say goodbye to these legends, and welcome someone new in the role. Who might that be?

There are two golfers who I think are the most obvious next-in-line for honorary starter duties: Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw. Watson is one of the most-honored and best golfers of all-time. Crenshaw is the walking emobidment of golf tradition. Both are 2-time Masters champions. Watson is 65, nine years younger than Nicklaus, and Crenshaw is 62. Crenshaw serves as master of ceremonies at the Champions Dinner, a role he inherited from Byron Nelson.

A little behind those two in age is Fred Couples, who will be a hugely popular honorary starter someday. Couples is 54. Nick Faldo is two years older than Couples, a 3-time Masters winner, and one of only three Masters champions to win back-to-back. But is he someone the Augusta National poobahs would ask? After all, Faldo wasn't that well-liked in his prime. I doubt Faldo would get the call — but there's a lot of time between now and when the idea of employing Faldo might come up. Faldo's reputation is mellowing all the time. Who knows. Couples is a lock, however, if the timing is right for him.

What about younger guys? One I think we might see as an honorary starter some day is Jose Maria Olazabal, 2-time Masters champ who has a lot of the same spirit-of-the-game qualities as Crenshaw.

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods? That's a long way off. You know Mickelson would do it if asked, and you know he'll someday be asked if the timing is right. Woods? Who knows whether Augusta National will be willing to ask him; who knows whether he'll be willing to do it. Then again, Nicklaus once said, categorically, he would never serve as honorary starter. And yet, there he is teeing off the tournament each year now.

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