Masters notebook: Lee Elder set to make history again as Masters honorary starter

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters begins Thursday morning with an updated tradition.

Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first Black golfer to play in the Masters, will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters.

The ceremony will be streamed live on Masters.com at 6:45 a.m. CDT.

“(Thursday) morning we will reflect on the moment at Augusta National in 1975 when Lee Elder bravely broke barriers as his name was announced on the first tee,” Masters and Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday. “I cannot wait to have the honor of introducing Lee and celebrating his inspiring legacy with our patrons and viewers worldwide.”

A winner of four PGA Tour and eight Champions Tour events, Elder qualified for the Masters by winning the 1974 Monsanto Open in Pensacola, Florida. He played in six Masters from 1975-81, with his best showing a 17th-place finish in 1979.

Elder will be the 10th person to serve as an honorary starter since 1963. Nicklaus began in that role in 2010 and Player in 2012. Arnold Palmer was an honorary starter from 2007 until his death in 2016.

Elder, 86, was honored Tuesday with an honorary doctorate from Paine College in Augusta. Augusta National is funding two academic scholarships at Paine in Elder’s name and is also underwriting the formation of a women’s golf program.

No Par-3 contest

For the second straight year, the Par-3 contest will not be held.

Masters officials announced in March that the event, typically held at Augusta National Golf Club’s nine-hole par-3 course the Wednesday before the tournament, would be scrapped again because of “social distancing protocols.” Club officials hope to resume the event in 2022.

This is the third time in the past five years that the popular mini-tournament has been scrapped. It was also washed out in 2017 by weather.

At least no player in this year’s Masters has to worry about the “Par-3 curse.” Since its start in 1960, no golfer has won the Par-3 contest and the Masters in the same year.

Firm and fast

Much of the talk this year has been about the contrast in the course to last year’s Masters in November.

Heavy rain and fall conditions made Augusta National play soft last year, a major factor in Dustin Johnson’s record winning score of 20-under par 268.

This year the course has been unusually firm and fast in practice rounds, impressing people like 1992 Masters winner Fred Couples.

Rory (McIlroy) said it five times: ‘Have you ever seen the greens like this on Wednesday?’ ” Couples said. “And five times in a row I said no. He was laughing because he’s been here a bunch, so I think if it stays like this, come even Friday, Saturday, Sunday, it’ll be — I mean, honestly a 70 or 71 will be a heck of a score.”

Rain is in the forecast, however, with threats of thunderstorms Friday and Saturday.

Full fans next year?

The 2020 Masters was played in front of only players’ family and friends and club members. This Masters will have limited patrons, though Augusta National has not announced a number.

Ridley said he’s hopeful the tournament can return to full capacity attendance in 2022. Again, that number is never released, but Golf Digest speculated that there will be about 12,000 fans per day this week, down from the usual 40,000-50,000 because of COVID-related restrictions.

“We are optimistic that conditions will continue to improve,” Ridley said. “We look forward next year to the full return of the signature roars that have been a part of Masters history.”

It’s in the game

The Masters is back in the video game business.

Ridley announced Wednesday that the Masters will be featured in a new version of a PGA Tour video game produced by EA Sports. He said the game will be released some time in 2022 before next April’s Masters.

The Masters hasn’t been part of a video game since 2014. EA Sports last produced a golf video game in 2015.

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