Subscriber OnlyGolf

The Masters: Maestros Nicklaus, Player and Watson lament fractured state of modern golf

Honorary starters at Augusta National preach togetherness amid traditional quips on age as they continue tradition of ceremonial first shots

The three maestros cracked the jokes before turning serious on the state of men’s professional golf, each one – Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson – quipping wisecracks on the first tee and playacting just how much their bodies ached before later burrowing frows at how fractured the game has become since LIV’s arrival.

On the first tee, the camaraderie of old was showcased in the tradition – since Arnold Palmer’s passing – of the trio with 11 green jackets between them and 140 Masters appearances hitting ceremonial shots down the first hole.

“I can hardly put the ball on the tee anymore,” quipped Gary Player, the fittest 88-year-old on the planet who still does hundreds of press-ups to start his day.

“Here’s the hard part . . . ahhh, ahhhh!” croaked Jack Nicklaus, “watch out on the left...and the right!”


“Ah Jack, you would never hit a hook off the tee in your life,” came Watson, the young buck, on walking up to take the Golden Bear’s place on the complex.

All done, to polite applause and nodding approval of those who had managed to gain a place around the first tee box, the trio – ages 88, 84 and 74 – then cast aside the jokes to reminisce about their past deeds at Augusta National, Pebble Beach, Turnberry and other places and other times where green jackets and claret jugs and Wanamaker trophies and US Open trophies were placed into their hands.

The clear and obvious friendships of the three men – two Americans, one South African – were forged in the white heat of battle where, once the final putt dropped, the handshakes were genuine and the winner and the loser moved on to the next battle.

Times have changed. Nowadays, there are those LIV players – among them Masters champions Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson – who don’t rock up to PGA Tour events any longer and where shared locker space only comes at the Major championships. This is the first of the year, the next will be the US PGA at Valhalla, then the US Open at Pinehurst and then The Open at Royal Troon.

At Rahm’s Champions Dinner, Watson had effectively finished affairs with words on what had been a lovely social experience. “Ain’t it good to be together again?” he said to those gathered, then wondering if his words would impact. Ray Floyd used that point to get up from his chair to close proceedings on that note: “And, in a sense, I hope that the players themselves took that to say, ‘you know, we have to do something. We have to do something’.”

Whatever secret talks are ongoing between the PGA Tour – and also the DP World Tour, by extension – and LIV’s paymasters show no sign as yet of any healing or constructive pathways forward and the three wise men were each hoping that there would be a coming together again at some point.

“We all know it’s a difficult situation for professional golf right now. The players really kind of have control I think in a sense. What do they want to do? We’ll see where it goes. We don’t have the information or the answers. I don’t think the PGA Tour or the LIV Tour really have an answer right now. But I think in this room, I know the three of us want to get together. We want to get together like we were at that Champions Dinner, happy, the best players playing against each other. The bottom line; that’s what we want in professional golf, and right now, we don’t have it,” said Watson, to nodding heads on either side.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times