Our Tribute to our Beloved King – Arnold Palmer
We all know that Augusta National is considered hallowed grounds in Augusta. The King has walked with the greatest golfers there and has walked away with a number of Green Jackets.
Orlando too has a hallowed place for golfers whose doors are not so tight for golfers like you and me! Armies’ place! On our most recent visit to the PGA Show we had the opportunity to spend a night at Arnold Palmer’s – Bay Hill Club and Lodge where even as a guest we are afforded the perks of being members for our stay.
Knowing that we were going to visit we asked Canada’s most awarded journalist Rick Drennan, who like myself is a big fan of the king both as a player, a golf course designer and a gentleman to pay tribute to the King!
To exemplify just how far The King had reached, while having breakfast one morning I bumped into one of our IAGTO Tour Operators from Japan. A group of 12 playing golf through Florida and one of the group members stated “With Arnold Palmer’s recent passing our trip to Florida would not be complete without a stop here.”
Elegy to Arnie
By: Rick Drennan
I simply can’t add another word to the volumes that has been written about Arnold Palmer, who died in late 2016, age 87.
But because this is my column, and he was my favourite golfer of all time, I think I should at least give it a try.
The great Gordie Howe made his final exit in 2016, too, as did Muhammad Ali. Perhaps the latter’s death will have more significance at both a sports and societal level over the years. But few of us could relate to Ali’s magnificence in the ring because, well, he performed in a sport few of us would even try. Howe was also a big-bodied bruiser, known as much for his sharp elbows as his ability to score.
But Arnold Palmer was different, way different.
He starred in a sublime and democratic sport, one that everyone – despite their size, age, or gender – could play and enjoy and relate to.
When it came to everyman appeal, no one could match Palmer, the bronzed, steely armed, telegenic, 7-time major champion winner who, over the course of his career, won 90 tournaments worldwide (including his first, the Canadian Open), and became the epitome of the all-American sports hero.
During his halcyon years – 1957 to ’65 – he held baby boomers in his thrall with his swashbuckling, go-for-broke style.
How distinct he was from today’s robotic snoots who play with manufactured swings and manufactured personalities.
Palmer brought a joyousness to his work that infected his followers and created his famous followers, Arnie’s Army.
Arnie was real.
Arnie was emotional.
Arnie played all-out.
Arnie acknowledged the crowd.
Arnie corkscrewed himself into the ground to bust a long drive.
His bold putts never fell short.
He didn’t go around course obstacles, but over – or through – them.
Even when he was past his prime, he had that indefinable something (charisma) that made him such a draw to young and old, men and women.
And he knew how to ring emotion out of every moment.
There are three such moments in his career – one a win, one a playoff loss, and one of runner-up finish – that absolutely defined him as a man, and a player.
- The win. At Cherry Hills in Denver, in the final round of the 1960 US Open, Palmer entered the last 18 way back of the lead, and played with future legend Jack Nicklaus and former legend Ben Hogan. Palmer promptly drove the first green, made birdie, fired a commanding 65, and won by 2 strokes. The go-for-broke legend was born.
- The loss. Palmer entered the final nine holes of the 1966 US Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco with a seven—shot lead over Billy Casper. He then frittered it away with some chancy play, one of the great collapses in PGA history. Arnie could have geared back, and ho-hummed his way to victory, but he didn’t – losing in a playoff the next day to the ever-cautious Billy Casper. Arnie being Arnie, he blamed no one but himself, and heaped high praise on his opponent. The legend of a true sportsman was born.
- Second place. In 1962, Palmer flew to Britain to participate in the British Open. No big deal, right? Well, at the time, it was. Few American pros travelled over ‘ome to try and win the Open. Palmer went there, and thrilled the crowds with his play, and even if he lost to Australian Kel Nagel, he made attendance at the Open a must for American pros. He singlehandedly created the modern-day Open, the world championship of golf.
Finally, I’m waxing poetic about Palmer for two reasons: in early November of 2016, mere weeks after his passing, I travelled to the Pinehurst area in the Sandhills of North Carolina and played the Mid-South course, one of his signature designs; and many years back, I got to walk nine holes with the King.
First, walking with a King. It was early August of 1990 at Lionhead Golf club in Brampton, Ontario. I was a sports editor at the local rag, and got an inside-the-ropes pass to the event, the Canadian Skins Game. While other players were there, including Canada’s Dave Barr, all eyes were on 60-year-old Arnie. For nine memorable holes, I hung off his shoulder.
I remember Arnie hitting a couple of wonky shots and cursing his choppy putting stroke, but most of all, he was good natured and engaged the crowd. He signed autographs. He had pictures taken with fans. He acknowledged their cheers. He understood why he was invited there to play. They wanted Arnie to be Arnie, and he was.
Playing like a King. Golf is unique. What other sport allows some of its players to design their own playing field? Wayne Gretzky was never asked to build a new hockey rink. They didn’t contract Pele to design a new soccer pitch. Have you ever played on a Bjorn Borg tennis court?
In November, I got to play his Mid South course near Pinehurst, an Arnie design.
The course blended into its bucolic surroundings. The longleaf pine forests, lakes and gently rolling hillsides were a feature on almost every hole. I could almost feel Arnie’s spirit as I played. When I stepped up to the 16th tee, I made a promise to play the last three holes the King would have wanted them played – all-out, go-for-broke.
The 16 is a wonderful Par 4. You hit over water twice: off the tee, and onto the green. I drilled a drive that left me 8-iron to the green. I ignored the water again, and went for the flag. I had 15 feet for birdie, but missed, and made a solid par.
On 17, a par 3, I had a long iron to a tiered green, and like my hero, I flew my 3-iron right at the pin. Again, I had 20 feet for birdie, but made par.
No. 18 is a beautiful hole, with water all along the right, from tee to green. With Arnie urging me on, I corkscrewed myself into the ground and pounded a drive to the left side of the fairway. With an 8-iron in, and a chance to bail out left, I said hell no, and flew it at the flag. With 22 feet for birdie, I drove my first putt 5-feet past, just missing birdie. I missed the comebacker, too, but was more than happy with bogey – because I did it Arnie’s way.
Arnie did it his way his entire career.
That’s why we as fans and members of the media adored him.
He pulled the game out of its snotty past and made it the most democratic sport of them all.
Hogan was masterful, but robotic. Nicklaus was calculated, and intimidating. Tiger was arrogant, and feared.
But Arnie was beloved.
In the end, isn’t that his greatest legacy?
Rest well, my friend.