Honorary starter Lee Elder, left, gestures as he is introduced and applauded by honorary starters Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, right, before the ceremonial tee shots to begin the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., on Thursday. Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The applause started when Lee Elder’s golf cart began moving toward the first tee. It only got louder when he arrived and slowly made his way to his seat.

And moments later, Masters Chairman Fred Ridley said words 46 years in the making.

“Lee, it is my privilege to say, you have the honors,” Ridley said.

That prompted the first roar of the 2021 Masters Tournament.

Elder – the first Black man to play the Masters – rose from his chair, hoisted his driver skyward for a moment, then nodded, smiled and waved in appreciation of the hundreds of people who crowded around the first tee to see history happen. He joined Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus as an honorary starter for the Masters on Thursday morning, the first time he had been part of the ceremony.

“For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” Elder said.


Player and Nicklaus each took a swing, as is tradition, knocking drives onto the first fairway. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Player’s first Masters win, the first by an international player, and the 35th anniversary of Nicklaus’ sixth and final victory.

Elder did not tee off, though just as was the case in 1975, his presence simply was the much bigger story. He became the 10th past player to be part of the honorary starter ceremony, and fittingly, the first Black man to join that list.

“I think that having Lee there was the right thing to do, a nice thing to do,” Nicklaus said.

Augusta National – mindful of the ongoing national conversation about racial injustice – announced last year that it would honor Elder with two scholarships in his name at Paine College, a historically Black institution. The scholarships will go to one men’s player and one women’s player. Augusta National’s move led to the creation of a women’s golf team at the school, with the club footing the bill for those startup costs.

Player has long been familiar with Elder’s story and, at times, his struggles. He invited Elder to play in South Africa, Player’s homeland, in 1969.

“It’s quite sad to think that in those days, with the segregation policy that South Africa had, that I had to go to my President and get permission for Lee Elder to come and play in our PGA,” Player said. “Quite sad.”


They made it happen, and Elder’s story kept evolving from there. He became the first Black man to play for the U.S. in the Ryder Cup in 1979, and doors slowly – very slowly – kept opening within the game. Augusta National made Ron Townsend its first Black member in 1990, seven years before a skinny kid named Tiger Woods won the first of his five Masters titles.

Elder – who grew up in Dallas and got into the game as a caddie, not a player, since that essentially was the only avenue Black people had into the game at that time – blazed the trail. He was back at Augusta National for Woods’ first win in 1997. The first Black man to play the Masters was simply not going to miss seeing the first Black man winning the tournament.

“It always amazed me that presidents of the United States would be giving these different awards to athletes for their athletic prowess, and here was a man that changed the lives and changed and put a spoke in the wheel of segregation in South Africa and was never given the awards that he actually duly deserved,” Player said.

The Masters sought to fix one of those award omissions this year, bringing Elder back for the honorary start. Past Masters champions Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, both in their green jackets, made sure that they were there for the ceremony, standing on the back of the tee box. So was Cameron Champ, one of four players of Black heritage on the PGA Tour.

“It’s a great honor, and I cherish it very much, and I will always cherish it,” Elder said.

Added Nicklaus: “It was long overdue.”


RORY MCILROY hit his approach on the seventh hole right where he was aiming.

Problem was, he was aiming at his father.

Here’s a tale that will be part of McIlroy family lore for probably forever: Gerry McIlroy was standing near the right side of the green, watching his son play his second shot from off to the left of the fairway. The ball wound up hitting Gerry McIlroy in the left leg.

“It was a perfect shot,” Rory McIlroy said.

Well, kind of. He wound up making bogey, which was his third in a row at that point.

“It was dead straight,” Rory McIlroy said. “But I think he was OK. He didn’t limp away. He walked away pretty swiftly, so that was all right.”


McIlroy also had a tee shot spray right on the par-4 11th, causing some patrons to tap-dance out of the way. He finished with a 4-over 76, not exactly boosting his chances of finally winning a Masters and completing the career grand slam.

There’s a tradition of sorts in golf that when someone gets struck by an errant ball, the golfer signs a glove and presents it to the person as a part-apology, part-souvenir. McIlroy didn’t seem like he was planning to give one to his dad.

“I think he just needs to go and put some ice on,” he said. “Maybe I’ll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him.”

TOMMY FLEETWOOD had no birdies in the opening round.

A hole-in-one made him smile anyway.

Fleetwood made an ace on the 170-yard 16th hole, the 32nd in Masters history. Of those, 23 have come on the 16th.


Fleetwood finished with a 2-over 74. There were no aces at the Masters last year. Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau both made one at the 16th in 2019.

VIKTOR HOVLAND opened his Masters with a disaster. Hovland, the low amateur when he last played the Masters in 2019, opened with a triple-bogey 7 on the first hole. He sent his tee shot into the trees left of the fairway, then needed two shots from there to get onto the fairway.

His fourth shot to the back pin location went off the green. He chipped on, then two-putted.

But Hovland, of Norway, bounced back nicely with birdies on three of his next five holes to get back to par for the day. He finished the day at 1 over.

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