If only we had cell phone cameras in 1987…
The GTE Northwest Classic was being played at Inglewood Country Club outside of Seattle. The GTE was the senior tour where all the legends of golf (over 50 years old) played. My brother-in-law worked for GTE at the time and got me passage into the tournament to watch. I followed Arnold Palmer for 18 holes.
I started playing golf at 13 years old in 1978. Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros were my first golf heroes. Mr. Palmer by that time was nearing 50 years old and wasn’t a regular on the PGA Tour anymore. However, if you golfed, you knew Arnold Palmer and I was no different.
So when I had a chance to watch The King in person, I devoted the entire round to him. I followed tee to green for all 18 holes, stopping at every shot behind him to eagerly watch him in action. Had I only had my iPhone, you’d have seen a few selfies!
My favorite story of him came midway through that round. Mr. Palmer had hooked a ball a little to the left and found himself stymied by a tree. He stood behind the ball and pensively considered his options. The crowd was hushed in anticipation. Then suddenly breaking the silence, a woman exclaimed, “But Arnie, I’ve seen you hit these in your videos all the time…” The crowd nervously chuckled. Mr. Palmer turned around, made eye contact with the woman, then reached out his club to her and replied, “Okay then. Here, you hit it for me!” He smiled and the crowd erupted. He then on cue hit a beautiful shot right at the green.
Arnold Palmer – like Muhammad Ali who passed earlier this year – transcended his own sport. His dedication to fans, to the game, and to people was an unmistakable hallmark of the man. He touched everybody in the game in some way; and his list of accomplishments and awards outside of golf is impressive, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor. I even noted in reading his biography today that he’s a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow, which adds a common bond with me.
Arnold Palmer was a brilliant businessman, basing his entrepreneurship and philanthropy on helping improve the lives of people. He will be sorely missed, however it’s clear his legacy will continue and help others though what he’s made sure to leave behind. The game of golf, the business and philanthropic community, and the world will miss him.
I’m thinking a toast in his honor, lifting a cold Arnold Palmer, is in order…
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