I was very saddened at the passing of Arnold Palmer yesterday. His humbleness, kindness, and unassuming personality towards regular folks made him truly a man of the people. He was one of my heroes and will be missed. I’d like to share a couple of Arnie stories.
At 19 years old, I was attending the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club. Even at age 51, Arnie was a fierce competitor and it was true that he could burn hot at times. On this day, I was in his gallery surrounding the par-4 12th green. Arnie hit his approach on in regulation and proceeded to three-putt for bogey. After holing out, Arnie sent the blade into orbit with a two-hand jaw-dropping reverse tomahawk straight over his head. I was half shocked and half amazed that I just saw one of the greatest players on earth wing metal in earnest. I thought, how cool was that! And Arnie had the wherewithal to aim this rocket towards the next tee box and away from any curious onlookers. The image has remained with me to this day and in 1985 it turned into a lesson on club throwing. I was playing the uphill par-5 17th at Kenwood Country Club in Bethesda, MD and badly missed my second shot with a 4-iron. I sent my own missile helicoptering off into the left rough and spent the next 15 minutes searching for my golf club in knee-high fescue. I have never thrown a club since.
In 2010, I was on a family vacation during spring break in Orlando. On the last day of the trip, my son Elliot and I ventured out to Bay Hill to visit the course and collect souvenirs. Our last stop was the 18th green, the scene of so many memorable Bay Hill Classic finishes. A work crew was taking down the last of the bleachers from the recently completed tournament, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye way down in the fairway a very familiar golf swing. Yes, the King was out playing golf and we were there watching with nobody else around! Must have been my fight or flight mechanism kicking in but I don’t ever remember being as excited on a golf course, and I yelled for Elliot to “get the camera out!”
Arnie had always been a club tinkerer and was always looking for a way to improve his golf, even late in life. What struck me first was how many clubs were in his bag. There must have been about 40 in the two Arnold Palmer Callaway tour bags. We watched Arnie and his foursome putt out and he came strolling over to his cart. We walked up and introduced ourselves. It was a hot day and Arnie was looking tired but he was so gracious and accommodating when we asked him to pose for a couple pictures. Not wanting to keep him for long, we got our photos and chatted for a couple minutes. I asked him how he played and he said he’d shot an 81 (not bad for an 80-year old) and had, “taken a couple bucks off his friends.” I thought, not bad for a man with seven major championships and millions in the bank.
Truly a man of the people. RIP King.