Q&A: Doc Giffin

Doc Giffin, Arnold Palmer's long-time assistant, in 2009.

Donald “Doc” Giffin started as a newspaper man in Pittsburgh, first with United Press International and then, after serving in the Korean War, with The Pittsburgh Press. In 1962, Giffin left newspapers to become press secretary of what would become the PGA Tour, when it was still part of the PGA of America. In 1966, while walking through the grill room at Rio Pinar Country Club in Orlando, Fla., during the Florida Citrus Open – forerunner to today’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill – Arnold Palmer pulled Giffin aside and asked him if he wanted to work for him. They have been together ever since. Giffin spoke with Golfweek at Bay Hill:

Has it been everything you thought it would be with Arnold Palmer?

It’s a job a lot of my friends were curious why I took it, because they said, Hell, he’s getting toward the end of his career, and you’ll be out of a job fairly soon. And I had no idea the Senior Tour was going to come along or anything like that, but I figured that he was so popular and had so many irons in the fire that he’s always going to need a staff of one or two people, and I always felt that I would be one of those two people. So I felt I had a very secure job. And it turned out to be right, fortunately.

Looking back, what was the time when you probably were the most engaged or most excited about what was going on?

I think in those earlier years, when Arnold was still in serious competition and I went with him to tournaments – particularly the majors – those were always exciting weeks. And I was single then, so I didn’t have any family responsibilities, so it was total concentration on what was going on there, and I always enjoyed the majors, particularly Augusta. That’s always a special time, a special place, and I always enjoyed seeing the people that I worked with when I was press secretary in the subsequent years.

How long after you took the job with Arnold did you become comfortable with him?

Well, a lot of that was helped by the fact that I had known him from my newspaper days at Pittsburgh, so it wasn’t like I had never been around him at all before the Tour. So that made it a little easier. But the first couple of years were, I wouldn’t say uncomfortable, but being sure that it was something I wanted to do because I always liked the Tour job. And it was a different situation and I was living up there (Latrobe) and it was the first time I really had lived by myself because I traveled on the Tour for five years. Before that, I lived out of the family home in Pittsburgh. What helped was the fact that Arnold and Winnie Palmer were so kind to me. They kind of took me under their wing and personally, as well as my work with him.

Obviously no regrets, but it must have been for the 45-plus years a pretty wild ride?

A lot of it has been. Arnold is a pretty solid guy, and luckily I haven’t had any major media crisis to deal with. I guess the biggest one was when Callaway came out with the driver (the nonconforming ERC II, in 2001). He was criticized for supporting the driver because he was always and still is a great supporter of the USGA. But some elements of the USGA at that time – a couple of the past presidents – were pretty upset about it, and of course some of the media was tough on him, too.

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