No professional golfer ever wants to reach 80 on the course but I’m sure Arnold is happy he achieved this 80. What a life it has been. Here’s a little piece I posted earlier this year and thought I’d bring it out for his birthday.

“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening - and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind
has ever invented.” -Arnold Palmer

He’s been everybody’s hero for a long, long, time, but he never wanted to be the “King”. Arnie hung out with Presidents and movie stars, but he put his golf shoes on in the parking lot. Before every Champions Tour round Arnie would pull into the parking lot, hang around the trunk of his car, regrip his driver for the day, sign autographs, and talk with his entourage. That big smile and pink sweater put everyone at ease; he was always approachable. Today’s superstars could learn a lot from A.P.

The galleries were enormous; every spectator thought he was personally there for them. When he looked into the crowd each fan thought Arnie was looking into their eyes. His gaze was mesmerising; they all loved him. Good friend’s of mine, Mark and Chris Shaw, once told me about the Arnold gaze. Chris was rather well endowed and they were having a conversation with Arnie. “I knew he was undressing me as we talked, and I didn’t mind one bit. It was Arnold Palmer, you just loved being in his company.”

We, Murph and I, came on the Senior Tour when Arnie’s career was winding down, but we had a couple of rounds with him. The crowds following Arnie were larger than the last group on Sunday. If he teed off early there was a good crowd gathered at the first tee, and by the turn there were throngs following the “King”. It didn’t matter if he was shooting eighty; they wanted to see the hitch of the pants, the violent swing and follow through, and maybe just one more late charge. If his name crept on the leader board someone in the group would call attention to it, and we would spend the next few holes watching with reverance. Everyone was cheering for Arnie.

Watching Bay Hill this week there were a lot of interviews with Arnold; he spent a lot of time on the Golf Channel broadcast. Brandel Chamblee continually called him Mr. Palmer, as he should; Kelly Tilghman continually interrupted him; shame on her. It’s like that old commercial, “When Arnold talks people should listen.” He, with Frank Chirkanian’s assistance, brought golf to the masses via the TV airwaves, and he has seen it all during his 80 years. Arnold talked of those valuable lessons from his father and spoke in awe of Tiger. He doesn’t have to be in awe, but it is a nice touch.

Those couple of rounds we played with Arnold - the golf was less than spectacular - were a tribute to the “good ol’ boy” in him and his love for his friends, family, fans, and the game of golf. We played our first round with him outside of Pittsburgh at Quicksilver CC; what a blast. On the first tee the starter mispronounced Arnold’s hometown and was quite embarrassed.

Arnie turned to the old guy and said, “There have been days and nights I’ve forgotten where I was from too.” The crowd laughed and everyone relaxed; Arnie could do that with all walks of life. He could drink beer with construction workers or sip champagne with royalty; it didn’t matter.

During the round the tour officials placed a pin unfairly on a slope towards the back of the green. If I remember correctly Arnie four or five putted and twice the ball rolled back to him below the hole. His face was so red, fuming was an understatement, but he never lost his composure. There was never an outburst and the crowd had no idea their hero was about to explaode. After we putted out Arnie spotted tour official Brian Naugle sitting in his cart; he walked over and they had a discussion. There was no swearing, violent body language, or anything that would draw attention to the two; just an honest frank conversation between two adults who loved the game of golf and didn’t want to see it compromised.

When Arnold returned to the tee box he was smiling. He said, “took care of that situation, let’s play some golf.” He birdied a few holes coming in and never mentioned a word about the unfortunate situation, or blamed his bad score on the piss poor pin placement. He blamed himself for getting above the hole in the first place. That’s very classy; I don’t think you would have seen a lot of today’s pros handle it as well.

Our round was postponed when we were in the seventeenth fairway, and believe me the officials did everything they possibly could to get Arnie in the clubhouse so he wouldn’t have to come out early the next day. We were out there bright and early: Murph, Don January, Arnie, the caddies, voluteer scorekeepers, and a few marshalls. There was no crowd and the old boys had some fun in the fairway; they were like little kids having fun with their bodily functions. Arnie would let one rip and stare into the sky, “Ducks, geese, anyone hear them?’

Then Don would walk by, raise his leg, stare at Arnold, “Catch that one, ya ol’ fart.” They were giggling and carrying on like grade schoolers; it wasn’t something you would share on TV, but it sure showed their human side, even though it was a bit raunchy. My girlfriend, future wife, asked me later about the last two holes, “Did anything exciting happen this morning?” I told her the whole story; she laughed and I hope everyone else is also. This isn’t meant to be mean, just a look at Arnold’s human side. It’s probably what makes this hero so approachable; he’s like one of us.

After a round Murph would finish his autographs, head for the clubhouse and get us a beer. A half hour later we would be in the parking lot and here comes Arnie, walking, talking, and signing autographs in the middle of a large crowd. Murph would shake his head, “I don’t know how he does it. He’s been doing that all his life; he’ll sign till they are all gone, he’s amazing.”

In Atlanta we had the privilege of playing with Arnie, Jack, and Lee on successive days. The crowds were tremendous for all three, but Arnie’s gallery was special. He treated them with respect and they loved him for that. They weren’t there for the golf; they were there for the person. Arnie wasn’t there to shoot a good score; he was there for them, to pay respect to his “Army”. Every one of those spectators, in their mind, had a personal attachment or experience with Arnie. He felt an obligation to every one of them.

We all need to thank Arnie for those personal moments and starting golf on this profitable journey. Jason Gore attributes his golf career to Arnold. When Jason was eleven he and his mom stopped by Latrobe CC. They asked if Arnold was around and were told to wait, he’d be there soon. When Arnie showed up he took Jason off to the practice tee for an hour. Jason stood there in his California surfer garb and watched the King hit balls, turning him into an instant fan and future professional golfer.

On TV this week Jason mentioned the story and how it motivated him every time things got rough. There are a lot of stories like that and they probably mean more to Arnie than his trophies, tournament wins, and financial success. He was always about helping the game and associating with the every day fan. When he tossled a kid’s hair he created a long time golfer. When he took time to sign all those autographs and have a few kind words with his fans, he sealed special moments his legions would treasure forever. He brought the masses to golf, and the masses carried Arnold; he thrived from them.

Years ago a friend from Eau Claire, WI visited Bay Hill. He wasn’t there to play golf; he knew nothing about golf. Every afternoon he would take a walk and see this older gentleman tinkering around his garage. After a couple of days of brief hellos our buddy was invited in for a chat. Each evening they would sit in the garage and talkabout a little bit of everything. “There were golf clubs everywhere, but I never asked about the stuff because I knew nothing about golf,” he said.

“What was the guy’s name?” we asked.

“Arnold, something. I didn’t catch his last name. He said he wintered here and spent the summers in Pennsylvania,” our buddy said. We all laughed and knew he had spent his evenings with the most charismatic sports figure of his time. They chatted about everything but golf; those evening chats with a perfect stranger tells you a lot about Arnold.

Arnold will turn 80 later this year. I’d love to be there for the stories, not so much about golf, but about life.

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