Arnold Palmer, The King, has died. Every golfer has his favorite AP story. The following is a story I wrote for my monthly, Characters On The Course for the May, 2015 issue of Tee Times. Enjoy!
When Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National, was introducing the threesome, that hit the ceremonial first shot to start each Masters, he used the term “THE KING” as the adjective to describe Arnold Palmer.
How do you become – THE KING??
The April 6 issue of Sports Illustrated contains an excerpt from a new book, Men In Green, by Michael Bamberger. The excerpt, entitled Palmer Unfiltered, acquaints readers with untold tales of the early life of THE KING. Palmer also relates his feelings about Tiger Woods and why he feels that Tiger will never again achieve stardom. I can’t wait to read the entire book to peel back more inside looks of Arnold Palmer.
As a young golfer, I watched as Arnold Palmer singlehandedly make “GOLF on TV” into a Super Bowl type event every weekend in the 50s and 60s. Palmer should have received a royalty on every new “color Television” sold in America. I know, because my family bought a new color TV, one with a round screen, just to watch the Masters. The Masters on TV – in color – was truly something special. In the even years from 1958 to 1964, Arnie, followed by his loving Army, won the Masters. In the odd years he finished 3rd, 2nd, 9th & 2nd; in 65 and 66 he finished 4th. With his go-for-broke style he made golf fans out of people who did not know a driver from a wedge. What a run at the Masters! In that same time span Palmer won the 1960 US Open and the 61 & 62 British Opens. Between 1960 to 1963 Palmer won 29 tournaments, he had become THE KING of the Sunday matinee. During that time period Arnold Palmer teamed up with PR Man Mark McCormack to become a complete variety of corporate businesses. Arnold Palmer Design Company was among the best known, building over 200 golf courses all over the world, including the first ever built in China.
I did shake hands with THE KING! I was attending a Golf Digest Rating Panelist meeting in Orlando, very near Palmer’s Bay Hill Club. On the morning of the second day of tightly scheduled back to back meetings and classes, Golf Digest treated us to breakfast with THE KING – Arnold Palmer. As we finished our delicious buffet breakfast, Palmer and the host narrator, who ever he was, took their comfortable seats on a raised platform in the front of the room. Our schedule read: Breakfast 7:30 – 8:00. Discussion with Arnold Palmer 8:00 – 8:30. Then various (important) breakout sessions starting at 8:45 and running until 5:30PM.
The host narrator introduced himself, then Mr. Palmer, THE KING. Everyone stood and a long ovation ensued. Palmer then in his mid-seventies stood smiled and waved, seeming to make eye contact with everyone in the room. When we were seated the narrator said, “Arnold, these gentlemen have the very important task of choosing the best of the best golf courses from the USA and around the world. Could you please give us some of your thoughts on golf course design and where you developed some of your design thoughts.” He then gave the microphone to THE KING.
Mr. Palmer got a distant look in his eye, as if watching a video replay in his mind, then started talking. Sometimes he would ask himself a question, then proceed to answer it. Each rambling story, told in vivid detail, seemed to trigger another memory in the mind of THE KING. As the narrator sat nervously looked at his watch, Palmer, totally involved in his story telling, continued. 8:30 passed. 8:45 came and went. Finally about 9:10, THE KING paused noticing the crowd, came back to the reality. Our narrator stood, and without the mic, very graciously thanked Mr. Palmer for his insightful thoughts on golf course design. Then Arnold said, “I will be over by the door if you have any questions on your way out.”
Of course each of us stopped to shake his, still powerful, hand and say something nice to THE KING.
I clearly understood the respect that “royalty” commands! No one on the entire event staff so much as thought of interrupting THE KING because of a schedule. The staff of Golf Digest went about franticly rescheduled the day.