Golf legend Arnold Palmer opens Masters with ceremonial first tee shot

Says he's looking forward to surgery to relieve back pain

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Arnold Palmer started the 78th Masters at 7:40 a.m. today when he hit the ceremonial first tee shots with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, then said he can’t wait to have back surgery to relieve pain caused by spinal stenosis.

“It’s been hurting for a while,” Palmer said. “It really hurts when I walk. It was all I could do to finish yesterday.”

Palmer, 84, was referring to playing nine holes in the annual par-3 contest on Wednesday at the Augusta National Golf Club. It was evident he was having trouble with his back when he was playing.

Palmer said no surgery date has been scheduled because he is taking a blood thinner and doctors want to wait until he finishes the prescription. He also said he did not know if he will have the surgery in Orlando, Fla., his winter home, or Latrobe.

Spinal stenosis is common in golfers and occurs when the diameter of the spinal canal shrinks and squeezes the nerve. Palmer said the surgery will be minimally invasive.

“I can’t wait to have it done,” Palmer said.

This is the eight consecutive year Palmer has served as an honorary starter at the Masters. He did it for three years by himself, then was joined on the first tee by Nicklaus in 2010 and Player in 2012.

Among them, they have combined for 13 green jackets and eight runnerup finishes. Curiously, this is the 50th anniversary of Palmer’s fourth and final Masters victory when he went wire-to-wire to beat Nicklaus and Dave Marr by six shots in 1964. It was also the last time Palmer won a major title.

Gerry Dulac:; twitter: @gerrydulac

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