(Note: Arnold Palmer died one year ago today. Golfweek is taking a look at his career and impact this week.)
ATLANTA – One year has passed since the world – not just the sports world – lost Arnold Palmer, the king of golf. In the 364 days since, we have missed his touch, his kindness, his humility, his playfulness, his compassion, and mostly, his overall bigger-than-life, thumbs-up presence.
Arnold Palmer had a special gift. He made others feel good. There’s no debate: For 87 years, this planet definitely had global warming. He was born in the Great Depression in the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania, and his name was Arnold Daniel Palmer.
The PGA Tour has continued to extend and celebrate the King’s legacy, not that it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Last September, days after his death, one of Palmer’s old Ryder Cup bags was placed on the first tee at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine; in March, at Bay Hill in Orlando, where Palmer spent winters since the mid-1960s, more than 60 players took part in a “21 gun” salute on the practice grounds to start the Arnold Palmer Invitational; at last month’s Boeing Invitational in Seattle, home to a PGA Tour Champions event, a 787-8 Dreamliner flew overhead at Snoqualmie Ridge, with Palmer’s signature, colorful umbrella emblazoned on the belly of the plane. As people peered into a blue sky, the scene left lumps in many throats.
Last week the Tour Championship was staged at East Lake Golf Club, where in 1963 Palmer served victoriously as the last playing captain in the Ryder Cup. There were mementos of Palmer’s time at the club. Inside a glass case on the first floor in the stately clubhouse, his persimmon woods and MacGregor MT irons – with rusted lead tape on the heads and those trademark wrapped leather grips he’d put on himself – were housed in his 1963 Ryder Cup bag. Palmer had defeated 26-year-old rookie George Will of Scotland in singles, 3 and 2, and finished 4-2 to help lead the U.S. to a resounding 23-9 romp. The reminders and trinkets – his money clip, his locker plate, his captain’s trophy – are nice, but they also make us stop and miss the man.
One year later, what is it that we miss most?
“I think everybody needs a pick me up along the way,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. “Everyone needs that source of inspiration, and he was always one to fill that gap for a lot of people. Just being around him inherently gave you an added appreciation for all of us playing the small part that we play in this game.”
One year ago, Monahan, then-Commissioner Tim Finchem and Ty Votaw were pulling out of the players’ lot at East Lake on Sunday evening after the finish, and they could not have been on a bigger high. The final round of the Tour Championship had been sensational, with Rory McIlroy charging hard down the stretch, shooting 64, then winning a thrilling playoff over Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell. McIlroy had doubled up, too. His victory also delivered the FedEx Cup, a perfect 10th-anniversary celebration.
The three Tour officials had just left a FedEx hospitality after-party on site, where they’d spent time with McIlroy, and now were headed to the airport to get back to Florida headquarters after a long season. Finchem was scrolling through his phone. “Oh, my God,” he said. Fifteen seconds of profound silence followed that felt like forever.
“Arnold passed away,” he said somberly.
The three sat in the darkness outside the East Lake gates on Alston Drive.
“I’ll never forget it,” Monahan said, “because he (Finchem) had been so good in making sure that I had gotten a lot of time with Arnold in the three years that preceded that. I’ll also never forget it because of how emotional he was, and how clear it was to me … how much Arnold meant to him.”
Arnold met a good deal to so many people. It’s sounds trite, but everybody, and we mean everybody, it seems, has a Palmer story. A sighting, an encounter, an exchange. Former Cleveland Plain Dealer golf writer George Sweda Jr. once talked Palmer into joining him at his high school reunion. On the memorabilia front, Palmer’s autograph isn’t worth much, only because he took the time to sign so many of them, all of them perfectly legible.
Arnold Palmer in the bunker during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National in Georgia, USA. Credit: Craig Jones /Allsport
Arnold Palmer rips off his sunshade as he drops the final putt that gave him the National Open championship in Denver, Colorado, June 18, 1960. “I was seven strokes back and really pumped up, ready to go,” Palmer recalled. Before the day ended, Palmer had won his only U.S. Open title. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer, left, winner of the U.S. Open Championship, congratulates Jack Nicklaus, the U.S. Amateur champion who placed second, at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Co., on June 18, 1960. Palmer won with 280 to Nicklaus’s 282. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer smiles with his trophy and medal after winning the British Open Golf Championship by a single stroke at Royal Birkdale course in Birkdale, Lancashire, England, July 15, 1961. Palmer, of Latrobe, Pa., finished with a 284 for the 72 holes. He is the first American to win the title since Ben Hogan in 1953. (AP Photo)
Gallerites watch Arnold Palmer hit an iron shot on the 11th hole at Troon, Scotland, July 11, 1962, in opening round of the British Open Golf Championship. The Latrobe, Pa. pro, the defending champion, birdied the par 5 hole. He had a first round 1-under-par 71. (AP Photo)
British Open champion Arnold Palmer poses with his trophy held high for all to see at the presentation ceremonies at Troon, Scotland, July 13, 1962. (AP Photo)
American golfers Jack Nicklaus, left, Sam Snead, center, and Arnold Palmer get together at the first tee at Troon, Ayrshire in Scotland during July 7-8 weekend in 1962. The three golfers are practicing for the British Open Golf Championship. Nicklaus is the American Open champion, Snead and Palmer will be defending the title. (AP Photo)
Bundled against the cold and rain defending champion Arnold Palmer tees off on the short fifth hole in the first round of the British Amateur open golf championship at St. Anne’s, England, July 10, 1963. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer of Latrobe, Pa., Chips from rough in front of spectators stand onto third green in final round of British open Golf championship at Carnoustie, Scotland, on July 13, 1968. He carded a five for the par-four Hole. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer putts at the third hole of the British Open Golf Championship, July 12, 1968, Carnoustie, Scotland. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer holds up two fingers as he comes in at the end of play in the British Open Golf Championship, July 13, 1978, St. Andrews, Scotland. Palmer was 6 under par at one time; he took seven strokes at the 17th hole, and birdied the 18th to stay in contention. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer, center, drives off from the 1st tee during practice for the British Open Golf Championship, July 15, 1981, Sandwich, England. (AP Photo/Robert Dear)
Arnold Palmer and his wife, Winnie, make a happy couple after the young Pennsylvania professional won the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., April 6, 1958. (AP Photo/Horace Cort)
Golfer Arnold Palmer works on his clubs in his basement at his home, May 23, 1962, Latrobe, Pa. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer is virtually in tears as a putt for a birdie stays out of the cup on the 14th green during the final round of the US open in San Francisco June 19, 1966, in which he and Billy Casper wound up in a tie for first at 278. (AP Photo)
Billy Casper reacted in this fashion today when he ran a 25-foot putt into the cup on the 11th green for a birdie 3 during his playoff with Arnold Palmer for the U.S. Open title in San Francisco, on June 20, 1966. Two strokes down at the time, Casper pulled even when Palmer bogeyed the hole. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer with ?Arnie?s Army? surrounding him drive on No. 5 hole in today?s third round of the PGA Championship on Feb. 27, 1971 in Palm Beach Gardens. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer sails his visor into the crowd at the 18th green at Bermuda Dunes after knocking in a birdie putt that clinched victory for him on Sunday, Feb. 11, 1973 in the Bob Hope Desert Golf Classic in Palm Springs. It was his first tournament victory in a year and a half. (AP Photo)
Jack Nicklaus kicks his leg after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the U.S. Open Golf Championship, June 18, 1967, in Springfield, N.J. At right is runner up, Arnold Palmer. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer leans on his putter and hangs head in perspiring dejection after he double bogied ninth hole in third round play of the PGA Championship. Palmer, playing on his home course on August 14, 1965 at Ligonier, Pa., started the round with 147, five over par and ten strokes behind the leader. He wound up with a 221, for eight over par. (AP Photo)
Golfer Arnold Palmer in the cockpit of a $750,000 Jet Commander, which he bought and pilots himself, is ready to take off from the Miami International Airport, May 23, 1966, Miami, Fla. Palmer is on a 1,000 mile flight to his home in Latrobe, Pa., about two hours flying time. He planned a brief visit with his family before flying on to various business conferences, on a recent typical schedule. (AP Photo/JM)
Palmer fails in Birdie try-p. Arnold Palmer does a little dance on the 14 green on Feb. 25, 1971 in Palm Beach Gardens, as he barely misses a birdie on the par 4 hole in the first round of the PGA Championship. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer grins as he answered Jack Nicklaus complaint about the Merion Golf Club Course, site of the U.S. Open, and said he found pin placement great, June 17, 1971, Ardmore, Pa. He then said Nicklaus, threesome in Fridays second round play was running late and they should be told, whats good for the goose is good for the gander, Palmer said. (AP Photo)
Golfing great Arnold Palmer walks with members of his “Army” as he walks to the first tee for a practice round on Monday, August 10, 1976 at Congressional Country Club, Bethesda site of the 1976 PGA championship. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer obliges his ever present army with autographs following his practice round on Wednesday, June 16, 1982 in Pebble Beach, Calif. as he prepared for the opening round of the U.S. Open on Thursday. (AP Photo/Jim Palmer)
Golfer Arnold Palmer poses with his golf clubs in this undated photo. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer waves his putter and smiles after putting, and missing, a birdie on sixth green in second round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Friday, June 15, 1973, Oakmont, Pa. Palmer wound up first round with par 71. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer slips into a green coat, tradional symbol of the Masters Golf winners, in ceremony at Augusta, Ga April 12, 1964 after a record fourth victory for the Pennsyvania professional. Helping him is Jack Nicklaus, left, who won the tournamnet last year. Palmer fired a 4th round 70 for a total 276, six strokes ahead of Nicklaus and Dave Marr. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer, a four-time-winner of the Masters, stretches to watch the ball after hitting from the sandtrap on number one hole during opening round of the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club, April 7, 1988. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
Arnold Palmer points to his name on the press ten scoreboard showing his four under par total for 72 holes for the National Open tournament in Denver, Colo., June 19, 1960. Palmer won the tournament with a score of 280. (AP Photo)
Both Arnold Palmer and his caddy throw themselves in to the act as Palmer’s Eagle putt rolls close to the 13th cup but misses by inches in the final round of the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga., April 13, 1964. Palmer won an unprecedented fourth Masters title. Caddy is unidentified. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, left to right, pose at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio on Sept. 7, 1962. (AP Photo)
Golfing greats Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus are shown on the course of Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., on Wednesday, April 4, 1973. Both are hoping for victory in the first of four major golf championships. Presently, the two are tied with four Masters victories each. (AP Photo)
President of the USGA John Clock presents the U.S. Open trophy to Arnold Palmer, left, at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado on June 18, 1960. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead in 1958
With a clenched fist, Arnold Palmer gives vent to his emotion at sinking a birdie putt on the 17th hole at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York on Friday, June 14, 1974 in second round of the 74th U.S. Open golf championship. Palmer went on to post an even par 70. With his opening round of 73 that puts him in a tie for lead. (AP Photo)
Arnold Palmer registered this moment of torture when he missed a putt on the 11th hole during the first round of the U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club, June 20, 1975. Arnie hunched his shoulders, dropped his putter and raised his face to the sky. He finished in two-under-par 69, two strokes behind the leaders. (AP Photo)
In the year that has passed, there are different settings and times that we long for Palmer’s presence. This week’s Hall of Fame induction in New York and Presidents Cup in New Jersey are two occasions we might have seen the man. Aussie Marc Leishman won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, and though five high-profile ambassadors had stepped in to fill the King’s shoes as collective host during the tournament week, Leishman stood on the 18th green awaiting the winner’s ceremony and could palpably feel the void.
“It was massive,” Leishman said. “You see guys win his tournament before, and he’s always there to meet them. When I won and he wasn’t there, it was kind of emotional. You knew that he wasn’t going to be around anymore. It really hit home.”
The year that has followed Palmer’s death has allowed for the telling of so many great stories about the man. Rob Johnson, the general chairman at the Tour Championship and a member at Augusta National, where Palmer, a four-time Masters champion, also was a member, remembers the laughter that always surrounded Palmer. Johnson was a relatively new member at Augusta when a server approached him to point out that a green-jacketed member a few tables over was dining without a tie.
2016 – Jason Day with his wife, Ellie, son, Dash and daughter, Lucy pose with Arnold Palmer at No. 18 during the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. – (Golfweek/Tracy Wilcox)
Sam Saunders greets his grandad, Arnold Palmer, as he made the turn on Thursday during the 2016 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. – (Golfweek/Tracy Wilcox)
Golfer Arnold Palmer is all smiles after being presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil award, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, June 23, 2004. Palmer, winner of 92 golf championships, including four Masters, two British Opens and the U.S. Open. He played his 50th and final Masters this year at age 74. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Honorary starter Arnold Palmer hits a ball on the first tee before the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Honorary starter Arnold Palmer punches the air after hitting off the first tee before the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Arnold Palmer and longtime friend, Dow Finsterwald at Bay Hill Lodge and Club in Orlando looking over a rules book.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Former President George H. W. Bush, left, and legendary golfer Arnold Palmer acknowledge the gallery at the Champions Tour golf tournament Friday, Oct. 22, 2010 in The Woodlands, Texas. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Arnold Palmer, standing, and his grandson Sam Saunders line up their putt on the 18th hole during the second day of the Del Webb Father/Son Challenge golf tournament in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 2, 2007. They finished the event with a two-round score of 18-under-par 126. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Golfing legend Arnold Palmer is presented with a plaque at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., as Arnold Palmer Day was celebrated on Tuesday April 4, 1995. The day marks the 40th anniversary of Palmer’s first appearance at the Masters. The tournament begins on Thursday. (AP Photo/Curtis Compton)
Golfing great Arnold Palmer, center, receives the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, during a ceremony in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington. At right is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Arnold Palmer with 1954 U. S. Amateur pictures.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Golfing legend Arnold Palmer (80) watches a video tribute to his golf career before a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs in Pittsburgh Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009. Palmer, a native of nearby Latrobe, Pa., was on hand for a celebration of his 80th birthday on Sept. 10. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Golfing legend Arnold Palmer, right, is surprised by the Pirate Parrot and a birthday cake in his seat behind home plate during a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs in Pittsburgh Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009. Palmer, a native of nearby Latrobe, Pa., was on hand for a celebration of his 80th birthday on Sept. 10. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Arnold Palmer signs a driver that he gave to Catherine Yaun in Round 3 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Lodge and Club.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer talks to the media during the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Wednesday at Bay Hill Lodge and Club.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Winner of The Open in 1961 and 1962, US golfer Arnold Palmer plays from the 1st tee during the Champion Golfers’ Challenge on The Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland, on July 15, 2015, ahead of The 2015 Open Golf Championship which runs July 16-19. 28 Seven groups of four Champion golfers with a combined 46 victories in golfs oldest Championship, compete in a four hole challenge, the winnings going to the charity of the winning team’s choice. (AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL)
Jack Nicklaus, left, and Arnold Palmer touch fists after Palmer hit his ceremonial drive on the first tee during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Arnold Palmer in Latrobe, Pa., on the eve of his 80th birthday at Latrobe Country Club.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer hits on the first tee for the honorary tee off before the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez share a laugh during a World Golf Hall of Fame press conference at the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Lodge and Club. In the background is Jack Peter, chief operating office of the World Golf Hall of Fame.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 18: Golf legend Arnold Palmer(L) and his grandson Sam Saunders pose following a press conference for the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 18, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Arnold Palmer and Sam Saunders for GolfWeek. (Photo by Allan Henry / ahenry.com)
Arnold Palmer at the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open
Doc Giffin, Arnold Palmer’s longtime assistant, in the warehouse that houses tons of Palmer memorabilia in Latrobe, Pa.-(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Some of Arnold Palmer’s memorabilia in a warehouse in Latrobe, Pa.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer has a few shelves of his golf shoes saved in a warehouse in Latrobe, Pa.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Boxes of Arnold Palmer’s hats from over the years sit on shelves in a warehouse near Latrobe Country Club, in Latrobe, Pa.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
The walls of Arnold Palmer’s warehouse in Latrobe, Pa., are covered with a variety of memorabilia.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
An old pin in Arnold Palmer’s collection of memorabilia at a warehouse in Latrobe, Pa.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
A section of shelves are lined with old film of Arnold Palmer in his warehouse in Latrobe, Pa.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Banners line the streets of downtown Latrobe, Pa., where Arnold Palmer grew up.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer in his workshop in Latrobe, Pa., on the eve of his 80th birthday at Latrobe Country Club.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer’s personal golf cart parked outside his office in Latrobe, Pa.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer practices his throwing skills at his office in Latrobe, Pa. Palmer will throw the first pitch at Chicago Cubs baseball game as part of his birthday celebrations.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer’s warehouse near Latrobe Country Club in Latrobe, Pa.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer spends some quiet time in his office in Latrobe, Pa. (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Arnold Palmer in his trophy room with his dog Mulligan in Latrobe, Pa. (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Sammy LeBlond, center, follows along with his grandfather, President Bush, and golf legend Arnold Palmer, left, during a round on Aug. 24,1991 at the Cape Arundel Golf Course in Kennebunkport,Maine. Palmer flew in for an overnight visit with the President at his Walkers Point vacation home. At right is unidentified caddy. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
19 Mar 2000: Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer holds the trophy after the Bay Hill Invitational at the Bay Hill Golf Club in Orlando, Florida. Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport
Arnold Palmer presents Kenny Perry with the winner’s trophy on the 18th green after the final round at the Bay Hill Invitational March 20, 2005 in Orlando. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 14: Arnold Palmer of the USA holds the new trophy that the players will compete for at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, presented by Mastercard, on the championship course at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, on March 14, 2007, in Orlando Florida, United States. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Arnold Palmer
AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 07: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and William Porter Payne (L-R) the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, pose on the first tee prior to starting the first round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Golf legend Arnold Palmer, left, stands with 1997 Bay Hill Invitational golf tournament champion Phil Mickelson and his trophy on the 18th green Sunday afternoon March 23, 1997 in Orlando, Fla. Mickelson won the tournament with a four day total of 16-under-par 272. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
Palm City, Fla.–02/03/13–Arnold Palmer jokes with his playing partners during the Devon Quigley Pro-Am at the Floridian. Proceeds from the event are going to benefit the Devon Quigley Special Needs Trust.–(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)
Tiger Woods, left, jokes with Arnold Palmer after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament, Monday, March 25, 2013, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
“Oh,” Johnson told the server, “why that’s Arnold Palmer.”
The server’s reply? “Really? You mean the lemonade man?”
Of course, when Palmer was told the story, he laughed harder and longer than anyone.
What did Johnson feel this April in Augusta, when the Masters moved on for the first time since the 1950s without Palmer?
“Vacant,” he said candidly. “Empty.”
The tournament that Palmer helped to build at Bay Hill that bears his name (it was the former Florida Citrus Open, played at Rio Pinar) will live on as a mainstay of the Florida Swing, and the hope is that players will continue to support it, even if its gracious host no longer is churning across the property, seemingly everywhere, in his personal golf cart, two full bags of Callaway clubs strapped on the back.
“I hope that players keep going, and I hope that field continues to be strong,” said Webb Simpson, who attended Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer Scholarship. Simpson competed twice at Bay Hill as an amateur, and in spending time around Palmer, he came to appreciate his people skills. Palmer made time for everyone.
Arnold Palmer’s statue stands by the first tee at Bay Hill in Orlando. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
“He always took care of us,” Simpson said. “Every tournament at Bay Hill, I’d go up and see him and Doc (Giffin, Palmer’s longtime assistant) up in his office. It just felt weird to be there this year. I know the game certainly misses him.”
Matt Kuchar, who grew up about 30 minutes from Bay Hill, won the 1997 U.S. Amateur (which Palmer had won in 1954) and at 19, was invited out to play in Bay Hill’s famed mid-day member Shootout alongside the King.
“You shook his hand, and he made you feel like you’d known him your whole life,” Kuchar said.
Smiling at the memory of the day, Kuchar added, “At 19, I thought I was pretty good, and he had aged, but he was still playing golf. You could tell he wanted nothing more than to beat me that day. He was grinding. He loved to compete.”
At Latrobe (Pa.) Country Club on Friday, members were invited to celebrate Palmer by playing a 16-hole round. Why 16 holes? Because Palmer was playing with buddies one day and decided on the 16th green that 16 holes had been plenty. Somebody brought down drinks, and that was that.
Latrobe is where his father, Deacon, was superintendent and pro and taught young Arnold the game, arranging the child’s small hands on the grip just so and telling him never to change it. He never did.
Palmer would sit in the grill room at Latrobe and tell the story of being a youth of about 6, and being paid to knock a drive across a ditch on the old fifth hole by one of the club’s female members, Mrs. Fritz.
“I made a nickel,” Palmer once said, smiling, “and man, I was there every time she was.”
Palmer’s incredible gift as a people person? Consider this goose bump-inducing story, which was told by author Tom Callahan in a beautiful biography released this year, titled “Arnie.”
Honorary starter Arnold Palmer walks through the crowd after teeing off to start the first round of the 2008 Masters. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
Two servicemen pals from Chicago, Jeff Roberts and Wally Schneider, who were stationed in Vietnam, once wrote to Palmer to ask for help with their bunker games. Palmer replied to the two with a note, but he also sent them two sand wedges and some golf balls.
When Roberts was back stateside, he went to watch Palmer at the Western Open outside of Chicago, and waited outside the clubhouse at Olympia Fields to speak with him. He got his chance, and told Palmer that he was one of the two soldiers to whom Palmer had shipped clubs in Vietnam.
Palmer, who’d meet tens of thousands of fans a year, looked Roberts in the eye and asked him, “Are you Jeff or Wally?”
Monahan believes there was a certain full-circle symmetry to the timing of Palmer’s death. It was McIlroy, the talented Northern Irishman, who’d won the Tour Championship in Palmer fashion that Sunday at East Lake on Palmer’s last day on this earth. Six months earlier, Monahan had been sitting with Palmer and Finchem at a corner table at Bay Hill overlooking the practice green during the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It was there that Palmer and Finchem would meet for a Wednesday lunch each year. McIlroy pulled up to say hello. He was playing Palmer’s event for the first time.
Monahan picks up the story: “Rory said, ‘Mr. Palmer, I just wanted to say, I’ve been around a couple of times, the golf course is in magnificent condition, I love it. I just want you to know that I look to play here every year going forward.’ And Arnold said, ‘Geesh, Rory, it’s great to have you here, I appreciate you coming over. If there’s anything we can do for you, whether you need tickets, whether you need some ice cream – whatever you need …’”
“And Rory stopped him mid-sentence and said, ‘Mr. Palmer, thanks to you, I have everything I could ever need.’ That, to me, was a really cool moment. And then Rory wins the cup, and does it in the fashion he did it in, and Arnold passed, and it was like one of these full-circle moments.”
Arnold Palmer loved his fans, and they loved him back tenfold. (AP Photo/ Rusty Kennedy)
Perhaps Palmer’s biggest lesson left behind would be how he treated his fans. He gave them love, and they loved him back tenfold.
“I think we miss the humanity that Arnold brought,” said Peter Jacobsen, who was a PGA Tour rookie when he met Palmer and enjoyed a close, 40-year friendship. “He brought a realism. He was a guy you could trust and you could like, and if you said ‘Hi’ to him, you know there’s a good chance he’s going to look you in the eye and say, ‘How are you doing?’ ”
Monahan took office in January with a singular goal for 2017 and beyond: Make Mr. Palmer proud. When he looks around at various tournaments and sees players high-fiving with fans, tossing golf balls to children, and maybe spending a few more minutes than normal signing autographs after a round, he likes to think it’s no coincidence. He likes to believe Mr. Palmer would approve.
Arnold Palmer is gone, and that’s very sad, but he lived such a rich life, and he left us all so much.
“I think it’s pretty cool to go places and see the Arnie umbrellas still flown proudly,” Kuchar said. “I see them all over the place. He certainly was a legend in the game, and one of those guys you looked up to, and a guy you so wanted to be like.
“I think the spirit lives on. He’ll never be forgotten.”