AUGUSTA, Ga. --Christie Nicklaus had a pretty good idea about the esteem in which her grandfather is held.
Thursday morning merely reaffirmed it.
Serving as a ceremonial starter for the first time, alongside longtime running mate and rival Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus popped his familiar fade down the right side of the first hole at Augusta National shortly after 7:40 a.m. as fans lined up to give the pair a rousing ovation.
That's hardly news, but since Nicklaus hadn’t stepped foot on the big course during tournament week since he played in 2005, it was as terrific reminder about his place in club lore. After all, he won the Masters title a record six times.
"I think it's amazing," said Christie Nicklaus, a 17-year-old high school junior who served as Jack's caddie in Wednesday's par-3 contest and the ceremonial tee shot. "I know how much he's appreciated, but when he comes here it's a whole new level of appreciation. It's overwhelming."
Playing from the daunting tournament tees, Nicklaus, 70, and Palmer, 80, both hit drivers down the right side, where a security guard reportedly kicked at least one of the balls a few yards farther toward the hole, just for fun. The tee-box verbal exchange between the two, who once barnstormed all over the country in Palmer's plane in the 1960s while playing exhibition matches together, was classic King-and-Bear repartee.
Palmer teed it up first and cracked, "Put on your earmuffs," a self-deprecating reference to the sound the ball was going to make when he hammered it with titanium.
"How's that?" he laughed after the shot, giving Augusta National chairman Billy Payne a high-five.
"How did you do that?" Nicklaus asked.
"Keep your eye on the ball," Palmer advised.
Afterward, Nicklaus, who left Augusta to start a fishing trip as soon as his ceremonial duties Thursday were complete, joined Palmer with the self-effacing asides.
"As long as you can hear the ball hit the club, you've done all right," Nicklaus said. "The biggest problem is, you don't want to hear it land ... I told Arnold I heard his [land]."
Palmer said the reception never gets old, unlike players of a certain vintage.
"That's wonderful and it's a great feeling and just typifies Augusta and what happens here, the politeness of the crowds," he said. "It's just overwhelming."
Nicklaus said he'd never been up this early before at Augusta, so he never witnessed some of the early greats like Snead and Sarazan who preceded him as the ceremonial starter. He vaguely recalled Fred McLeod and Jock Hutchinson handling the honorary duties way back when, but never witnessed the first-hole ceremony.
"I was a young player and I didn't have a clue who they were now and I'm sure that the young players have no clue who Arnold and I are," Nicklaus cracked. "But it's a nice tradition and I hope that I'm invited back to do it again."