Palmer hits the opening drive -- in the fog

  • Article by: HOWARD SINKER
  • Updated: April 10, 2008 - 9:48 AM

Fifty years after Arnold Palmer won the Masters for the first time, he settled over the ball Thursday morning and hit a ceremonial tee shot that went so far he never saw it land. Blame that on the thick fog that settled over Augusta National. “Fifty years ago, it went a lot farther,” Palmer said. “But the tee was a lot farther up.”

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By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Fifty years after Arnold Palmer won the Masters for the first time, he settled over the ball Thursday morning and hit a ceremonial tee shot that went so far he never saw it land.

Blame that on the thick fog that settled over Augusta National.

“Fifty years ago, it went a lot farther,” Palmer said. “But the tee was a lot farther up.”

It was the second straight year that Palmer, a four-time Masters champion, hit the ceremonial first tee shot. The tradition began in 1963 with Jock Hutchinson and Fred McLeod, but there was a five-year gap without an honorary starter until Palmer renewed it last year.

And in this new age of media at the Masters, even CBS Sports got in on the act, televising it live for the first time.

Palmer warmed up by hitting three shots on the practice range, and the applause grew louder with each step he took toward the tee. Masters chairman Billy Payne introduced him — as if Palmer needed it — as being synonymous with golf and the Masters around the world.

As for the tee shot? It was straight down the middle, as far as anyone could see.

“As a matter of fact, it went out of sight,” Palmer said.

Good thing he hit only one shot. Palmer had 15 clubs in his bag, one over the limit. Of more concern to him was a cell phone in his pocket, which he removed, switched to silent and slipped into his golf bag.

“Don’t let the boss see this,” he said, as Payne stood next to him with a mock frown.

The most significant of Palmer’s four Masters victories came in 1960, when he birdied the last two holes for a one-shot victory. He next won the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, and it was on his way to the British Open that year when he cooked up the idea of a modern Grand Slam — winning the four professional major in the same year.

Until then, the Grand Slam related to Bobby Jones in 1930, when he won the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur. Tiger Woods has talked this year about the slam that Palmer created being “easily within reason.”

It starts with the Masters, and Palmer was curious how the week would play out.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm. You can see it and feel it,” he said. “The golf course is going to be difficult early. Today is going to tell us a lot about the week.”

But the King wasn’t going to stick around to watch.

His wife, Kitt, developed an ankle infection and had two operations within the last week. Palmer said she was released from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on Wednesday, and he was on his way to Latrobe, Pa., to check on her.
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