RIP Arnie: Long Live ‘The King’
Most of us have recollections, memories or impressions of Arnold Palmer. No one person has meant more to the game of golf since Old Tom Morris.
If only for his playing career, he would be most memorable. That career, as good as it was, is only a small portion of his contributions. After all, he has a drink named after him that people order world-wide who have no idea who Arnold Palmer was!
I have had the privilege of knowing him, spending a few dinners with him, and several cocktail conversations. He signed a picture of himself standing on the Swilcan Bridge during his last round of the British Open and sent it to me without any request, just because I had told him how much I loved St. Andrews a month before. What celebrity does that? Arnold did, and he did it for thousands and thousands of people annually.
His greatest legacy in my mind is encompassed in a few special memories I’d like to share with you: I have been a member of the Golf Writers Association of America since 1973, and was present at the 50th Anniversary Dinner of the group in Myrtle Beach some year ago. There were about 80 of us present, when to our surprise, Arnold walked in unannounced. No one had any idea he was coming. After the applause ended, he shared that he had seen in a newspaper article that the dinner was being held, and thought to come “…because I would have been nobody except for you golf writers telling people about me!” What celebrity does that?
The Palmer Cup, a match between the best young collegians in the U.S. versus Europe has been conducted by the Golf Coaches Association of America. As a rules official for the event, working with Bob Hooper, one of Arnold’s close friends, I’ve seen the affect he has on people, making the least of us feel special in a casual conversation. He was so interested in people, their feelings – especially about golf – making each personal contact much more than it probably was.
Sitting at the first tee while the matches were going on at Cherry Hills, the site of his great comeback to win the Open – triggered by his close golf writer-friend Bob Drum telling him just before teeing up in the last round, “Arnie, you’re so far behind no one will even know you played today.” As most know, he then drove the green on the par 4 first hole and came back from 6 shots to win with a final round 65. That was 346 yards with a persimmon driver and old golf ball… So fast forward to the first tee where Arnold is talking to each of the collegians as they began their matches. One U.S. player, when called to play, pulled out a 2-iron to lay up short of the creek by the green. As he addressed the ball, Arnold cleared his throat loudly, saying as the player backed away, “A man hit’s driver on this hole!” The player blushed, put away the 2-iron, pulled out driver and blasted the tee shot right up to the green. “That’s better!” Arnie said, giving the player the thumbs-up.
One final thought sums up for me his love for the game and all people who play it. At his club Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida where he spent much of the winters, he played as often as he could, joining up with members in the daily game. Playing for a few dollars, giving – and as he aged, getting – strokes, every stroke was important, enjoyable and rewarding. He complimented those who beat him, and proudly collected small bets for those who didn’t. It was, as always with him, ‘All about Golf’.
He will be missed.