Jack Nicklaus (R) and Gary Player (L) were in tears while opening the 81st Masters
Nicklaus removed his cap and raised it to the skies before out-driving Gary Player to launch the 81st Masters, the first for 60 years to be staged without the departed Palmer.
“The Masters did make Arnold in many ways because of his wins in '58, '60, '62 and '64. But in another way Arnold made the Masters. I think Arnold put the Masters on the map. They were very good for each other,” said Nicklaus, wearing an Arnie’s Army badge.
“We wanted to beat each other's brains out, but we knew once the day was over that the day of golf was over, that it was time to go be civil again and be friends, have fun and spend time with our wives.
Nicklaus raised his cap to the sky in tribute to Arnold Palmer
“The competition is a competition. It's not how you lived your life and how you want to be mean and tough all day long. There's some guys who are and I feel sorry for them. But I think we never did that and I'm thankful that we didn't.
“We were ready to needle each other at the drop of a hat. But that was fun. That's what kept our friendship so good.”
The scene from the clubhouse balcony was a poignant one as Palmer’s widow Kit wore Palmer’s Green Jacket to the first tee before Augusta National chairman Billy Payne draped it over an empty chair in his honour.
Thousands of patrons, who had gathered at first light, removed their caps in unison and bowed their heads in a moment of reflection after an eloquent tribute to Palmer from Payne. They included Tom Watson and Rickie Fowler.
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Nicklaus enjoyed a friendly rivalry with Arnold Palmer throughout their careers
“It is a wonderful but in one respect difficult day,” said Payne. “For the first time in many, many decades someone is missing from the first tee here at Augusta National. The almost unbearable sadness we feel at the passing of Arnold Palmer is surpassed only by the love and affection we feel for him which will always reside in our hearts.
“Despite all the fame and fortune, he always had time for all of us. It still hurts so bad that he’s not here.”
Player then drove off down the right before a tearful Nicklaus split the first fairway to win their private longest drive contest by five yards.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the 2017 Masters has now officially begun,” said Payne. “Please have fun.”