The Arnold Palmer Invitational is more than just a golf tournament, and the players should know that. The truth is that they do, at least to some extent. They may not realize that the payment that hits their account on the first of every month for the hat they are wearing or for the logo they sport on their golf shirt can be linked directly back to Arnold Palmer, but they should.
They may not realize that a large portion of Arnie’s Army is still alive, still sits on boards of directors and sponsors PGA Tour events, but they do. And they may not realize that Arnie is far more than a figurehead at his own event, and that he is emotionally and financially invested in every way.
With that in mind, it is sad to see that so many of the top 10 players in the world took a pass on the King’s event last week. I get it. I understand that preparing for the Masters is the No. 1 professional priority for a lot of guys. Spending another week in windswept Florida before you head to a place where high-fading mid-irons are on the menu may be less than ideal. But Adam Scott played the Tavistock Cup but not the API. Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, Charl Schwartzel and Jason Day simply took a pass. Each had his own reasons, and they were probably good ones. But that didn’t change the fact that they weren’t there for Arnie.
Arnold Palmer is not just another Hall of Fame player who hosts an event (and there are only a few). He is the one who made this all possible. He and IMG’s Mark McCormack founded modern golf management. As IMG’s first client, Arnold Palmer was golf’s pioneer into personal service and endorsement contracts. Those deals have since evolved to the point that every one of the players in the top 10 who took a pass on the Arnold Palmer Invitational could have flown to the tournament in his own jet. Arnie made that happen, whether they realize it or not.
Look, I am not in the rumpled old media set that will call out the game’s best players for sport. And I’m sure that every one of the top players in the game who decided not to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week did so with some trepidation. Missing the event surely was not a direct shot at Mr. Palmer or his great event. But not being there does make a statement. It does make a difference. And being one of the best in the game does come with some responsibility. Mr. Palmer created a standard to which no player could ever live up to in his wake. But ignoring the standard somehow diminishes it. And that’s sad.
The number of events today that exist on the PGA Tour and can find their origins with Mr. Palmer are astounding. From winning the first Palm Springs Desert Classic (Humana Challenge) and the first Heritage to keeping alive so many events by his mere presence throughout his career, Arnie took his responsibility seriously.
Mr. Palmer wasn’t on the 18th green for the awards ceremony on Sunday after his doctors suggested that his blood pressure should be monitored more closely at the hospital. Reports suggest that he will be fine, was in “good spirits” and that he will continue to be a part of the fabric of the game for a long time to come. We hope and pray that is true.
No one, not the “Big Three” before him nor any who came after, has had anywhere close to the impact on the game and the profession of playing golf that Mr. Palmer has. He has never once asked for thanks or praise from those who followed him. But he deserves it, and a lot more. Hopefully there are many more trophy ceremonies in Arnie’s future. It is still baffling that anyone would miss the opportunity to try to be a part of one of those.