Arnold Palmer at 80

Months ago, the USGA dedicated a site for an Arnold Palmer Memory Book.

Visitors there are invited to record their memories of the King, encounters they’ve had, as a way to honor him. This is being done to celebrate his 80th birthday, which is on September 10th, 2009.

My one personal memory of Arnold Palmer was at Pebble Beach.

I saw him on a Sunday. Conditions were good. It was at the US Open. 1982.

I followed Jack Nicklaus that day, from start to finish. Jack is and will always be my guy, and his play then, the shots he made, still stuns. He was hot out of the box, Jack. He made five consecutive birdies on the front nine. This started around the 3rd. The tournament then went electric.

I played. Played competitively. But I have yet to see anyone hit a ball the way Jack Nicklaus did that day. One of those birdies has stayed with me.

Jack’s ball was on the left side of the fairway. We were too, my brother and I. So we had a pretty fair look. It was a blind shot, and Nicklaus hustled up the rise to take a peek at where he ought to aim it. He made a couple of jumps up while on top, to get an even better look. His caddie, Angelo, another icon, hair asunder, remained at his bag. On that one, Jack used either a low or mid-iron — I couldn’t tell. That’s how incredible he was hitting it! — which was a jaw-dropping moonshot. He more or less stuck it, sank it.

He looked relaxed throughout too, and very strong. It appeared as if Nicklaus was going to win it. And it was like that the whole day — his play was that electrifying.

On the 17th, while Jack was heading towards the green, I asked Barbara Nicklaus if she would autograph the scorecard I was keeping on her husband. And she was really nice.  The 18th for Jack, as I remember it, was routine. Again, it felt like Nicklaus had it.

And here’s where I saw Arnold Palmer.

I didn’t meet him. I saw him only, coming out of a white scorer’s booth, and it was a thrill to see this legend. Idol to millions. The booth looked like an abbreviated container you see on ships. Arnold came out all smiles, as one might expect, and very tan. I recall now what a young, unknown Cary Grant had said about seeing his boyhood idol, Douglas Fairbanks, on a cruise liner. He remembered him having a “healthy tan”. Grant said that’s the way he too wanted to be, and he was.

Too young, I didn’t get a chance to see Palmer play at his competitive best. It was a privilege to have seen even Nicklaus. Watson, the eventual winner, I saw from the 18th fairway, while heading back onto the course after Nicklaus had finished. He was, I could just make out, at the back of the 17th green and off a bit left, when suddenly the crowd erupted in a huge roar. Watson ran around the green a bit, after the chip-in that would make golf history.

It’s so fitting that the USGA has put up a memory book to Mr. Palmer. Allowing people, who have a story to tell about him, is quite a just thing to do. Reason is, a good part of Palmer’s legacy to his army of fans — along with of course his incredible playing career and the titles — will be about who the man is, as a person. He counts his vast friendships as among his most cherished accomplishments, during his long career. The quite humble person he is, sage-like, and who he has always been without fail, will long stay with people who have known or have heard of him. This will be sustained in the game as well, and which is a great benefit.

On the USGA’s site for Palmer, there are a great many delightful stories that have been put up, spanning several decades. Below too is their site …

… and Happy Birthday, Arnold Palmer!!