Thursday is for the old guys.
Each day at the Masters has its own identity, a four-act play that begins with a nostalgic walk among the azaleas and stark white North Carolina sand traps.
Thursday is for walking the grounds and identifying the flowers and trees each hole is named for, a stroll through time, waiting for history.
My favorite memories of this week aren’t all about Tiger and Phil, the great weekend roars or even the classic moments at Amen Corner.
They are also of watching the old guys play one last time, Jack and Arnold walking up 18, Gary Player and Tom Watson stubbornly insisting they could still win, Billy Casper slipping his last scorecard into his back pocket and walking past the scoring tent to the big oak tree on top of the hill. He shot a 106 that day.
We saw most of them play beyond their years, coming to the Masters as former champions until former club chairman Hootie Johnson sent letters to Casper, Doug Ford and Gay Brewer revoking their privileges in 2002. The old guard rose to their defense, and Johnson relented.
Casper was 73 years old when he played his final round in 2005. He said he did it for his grandchildren. When he asked what he would remember about that Thursday in April, he smiled and looked back down the hill.
“The 14 at No. 16,” he said.
That would be the worst score on any hole in Masters history had Casper turned in his card, and the 106 would’ve been the worst round in Masters history.
The funny thing was how happy he seemed and how everyone around us was smiling as he answered questions and described the five balls in the pond at the par-3 16th.
It wouldn’t go down in history, and only those of us who watched it happen live to tell the tale. History came later in the week as Nicklaus played his final round on Friday and Woods won on Sunday.
The opening round was the end of a tradition like no other, though, the annual walk down magnolia-lined memory lane, and this week the old guys don’t seem that old. Larry Mize will play, as will Fred Couples, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal and Bernard Langer.
The day will begin with Nicklaus and Player teeing off as honorary starters and then the 83rd Masters will begin on the latest possible Thursday before the second Sunday in April.
All of sports pauses on this day, and every sporting event in the world is scheduled around it.
They say the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. And that’s true in a competitive sense. But it really begins on Thursday when things don’t seem all that competitive at all.
Billy Casper, who passed away in 2015, walked off the course on a cloudy Thursday some 14 years ago, and no one remembers it except those of us who saw it happen.
“I’ll just keep this card,” he said, patting his back pocket. “I want to remember this day.”
The day is one of the coolest days in sports. Thursday at the Masters.
Thursday is still for the old guys.