CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Arnold Palmer issued a challenge to those competing in the Palmer Cup, the college equivalent of the Ryder Cup.
“I’m looking forward to watching these matches, and guys,” he said Tuesday, looking at the players from around the podium. “I’m going to be on the first hole. And the first guy that pulls out a 1-iron or 2-iron or 3-wood, I’m going to run out and hand him his driver.”
The first hole at Cherry Hills is where Palmer began his famous charge from seven shots back, driving the 346-yard, par-4 en route to victory at the 1960 U.S. Open.
It was Palmer’s only U.S. Open victory and it helped him carve the legacy that he has today as one of the greatest competitors in golf.
Palmer continues to be active, though his playing career is long over. He talked Tuesday about his goals, including growing the game internationally and pushing for equipment changes.
Palmer has won 94 pro tournaments, including seven majors. But it was his personality and connection with the public that made him so popular. That showed again Tuesday when asked about obstacles he had to overcome while playing.
“Yeah, a couple of things: Nicklaus and Player,” he deadpanned.
Palmer said he was sad to see golf-course development stall in the United States because of the economic downturn, but he said that was offset by successes internationally.
“I’m building golf courses in Brazil, Indonesia, China, Russia and Romania. It’s refreshing,” Palmer said.
So, Palmer’s golf legacy continues.
Palmer recalled the day that Tiger Woods called him while he was still in college and asked to meet him for dinner. For three hours, Woods picked his brain about the tour.
“He knew he could play, but he didn’t know how the other things could affect him,” Palmer said. “I can say right now he is a guy that has stuck pretty much to the principles of the game and the things I suggested that he follow.”
The question this week at the Palmer Cup, which pits top collegiate players from the United States and Europe in morning and afternoon matches Thursday and Friday, is how tough will it be for players to drive No. 1 like Palmer?
“I hit it 10 yards short yesterday in the rain, so with a good day I believe I can,” said Stanford’s Steve Ziegler, who is from nearby Broomfield. “I thought about playing a joke on him and pulling a lob wedge or putter out and being playful. But there’s no way I’m pulling out anything but a driver on the first hole.”
Ziegler, one of eight U.S. team members, said the event means so much more with Palmer being in attendance.
To thank Palmer for his continued support of the game, Cherry Hills and the competition bearing his name, he was given a framed copy of the 2009 program along with a limited-edition replica red visor that he had heaved into the crowd on that day in 1960. Only 36 visors were made.
The original was obtained from a Fort Collins man, who was just 11 when he nabbed the visor while watching from the 18th hole. It is on display at the USGA’s museum.
“We’re going to see some great matches, but it doesn’t matter who wins or loses,” Palmer said. “It’s about the guys who play the game and play it right.”