Monday, September 26, 2016

My Arnold Palmer Story

Arnold Palmer died yesterday. I first saw the news running across the bottom of my TV screen. Even though he was 87 and in ill health, it was a shock. For men of my age he was one of the first sports personalities we discovered. When I was a kid, you either rooted for Jack or Arnie. I was an Arnie guy. Jack Nicklaus was the greatest golfer of all time, and we all hated him for it, because although we admired Jack's game, we were in love with Arnie. Jack won 18 majors. Arnie won our hearts.

Here's my Arnold Palmer story. His last professional victory happened to be at the 1988 Crestar Classic at Hermitage Country Club right here in Richmond, Virginia. My best friend Al Thomason and I showed up for the final round that Sunday morning and made a beeline for Arnie's Army which was amassed on the first tee. We elbowed our way to the ropes and followed our hero for all 18 holes. It was one of the highlights of my life. On the back nine, he was nursing a one shot lead with three holes to play, when he came to a par five, pulled out the driver and nailed a long drive right down the middle. Al and I figured that Arnie being Arnie, he would probably go for the green in two instead of laying up. So, we sprinted from the tee box to the green so we could watch his daring approach shot. Only, he hooked the shot badly and we watched in horror as the shot landed deep in the woods to the left of the green. We immediately ran over to where the ball landed along with what seemed like a million other people. The ball was sitting up nicely on a bed of leaves six inches from the base of a small tree. He had a shot.

When he arrived on the scene, he hitched up his pants as he looked down at his ball, obviously pleased with the fortuitous lie he had drawn. Then, he looked around at everyone and smiled a sheepish grin.

"...You guys didn't place this ball in this perfect spot did you?"

Everyone laughed and so did he. It was a magical moment. Then...

"...Well then, the least I can do is get this thing up and down!"

Which he did.

At the time, nobody knew that this would be his last professional win. It was the first and only time I ever saw him play in person. What I remember most was how friendly he was to the fans, how natural his interactions with us were. He had the one thing that most professional golfers lack...charisma.

RIP, Arnold Palmer.