Arnie: Palmer born, raised and forever in Latrobe

By Bailey MosierSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

Arnold Palmer had been particularly uneasy about this night’s speech. He’d made hundreds of speeches before, and was never one to disappoint, but this night was different.

He didn’t have a script, but then again, he never did. He once addressed a joint session of Congress, and before he was called to the floor of the House, aides asked for the written script. There wasn't one.

There were no politicians, dignitaries or celebrities in the room this night. No, this room was filled with people important to Palmer not for the characters they played in the public eye, but for the character they portrayed in everyday life.

It was his 50-year high school reunion, where former classmates and teammates gathered at Latrobe Country Club in Latrobe, Pa., to reminisce, swap stories and catch up with the man they knew as a boy. The man, who, despite all his worldwide fame and fortune, was still just Arnie Palmer to them. They didn’t share the same bloodline, but these people were family.

When the time came for Palmer to speak – just like so many times before – he knew exactly what to say:

"We've all gone a lot of places since our days growing up here in Latrobe. And if there's one thing I've learned in all those years, it's this: Your hometown is not where you're from. It's who you are."

Arnold Palmer was born on September 10, 1929 – the first child of Deacon and Doris Palmer in Latrobe, a small steel town 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The Palmers lived in a modest house near the fifth hole of Latrobe Country Club, where Deacon was the club pro and greenskeeper. Arnold’s mother kept the pro-shop books and oversaw the family finances. When Arnold was 2, his sister Lois Jean (later nicknamed Cheech) was born.

Arnold and his sister were born just as the Great Depression’s effects were taking hold on America. Cheech recalls only two rooms in their house having heat – the kitchen and living room, thanks to a fireplace. While not affluent, the Palmers made enough to get by.

"We always had enough to eat,” Cheech said, “but I can still hear Daddy saying, 'By God if you put that on your plate you'd better eat it.’”

Fortunately, Arnold’s childhood isn’t characterized by what was in the Palmer bank account, but by the richness of love he received from his family and the town.

“Arnold had a great childhood, almost an American idol of childhood,”  said James Dodson, co-author of Palmer's autobiography, "A Golfer's Life." “He grew up with the free run of the golf course and the creeks around Latrobe, and he was an athletic kid. He played a lot of different sports. … He loved being outdoors; he never wanted to be indoors. He was in creeks and always in the middle. He was a scrapper – a lot of fist fights.”

In his autobiography, Palmer shared two of his earliest memories.

The first: When he was 3 years old and carrying a fresh quart of milk up his grandmother’s three front steps, he tripped and fell on the milk bottle, shattering the glass and slicing nearly the entire side of his left hand.

“I suspect I may have cried,” Palmer later recalled, “though perhaps not. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if I didn’t, because even then I knew my father and my grandfather were tough and seemingly unsentimental men, and I instinctively knew I wanted to be like them.”

The second memory: “When I was 3 … my father put my hands in his and placed them around the shaft of a cut-down women’s golf club. He showed me the classic overlay, or Vardon, grip – the proper grip for a good golf swing, he said – and told me to hit the golf ball."

“Hit it hard, boy," Deacon said. "Go find it and hit it hard again.”

Arnold Palmer gives a tour of Latrobe CC

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While he excelled at golf, Palmer was indifferent in school.

“Admittedly, I wasn’t the best student in high school,” he said. “I made decent marks in math because it had a useful purpose on the golf course (keeping score and tallying up bets), and pretty ordinary ones in English and history.”

Deacon was the head pro at Latrobe County Club, but back in the 1930s, club pros were not particularly respected by the membership they served. The Palmers weren’t allowed to play the course except early mornings before members arrived or late evenings after they'd left. Despite the restrictions, Arnie squeezed golf in whenever he could.

When he wasn’t with his dad or his dad’s work crew, he was sometimes permitted to hack a ball around in the rough. Occasionally, when nobody was looking, he’d sneak onto the putting green for a few moments of practice.

Before he turned 8, Palmer broke 100 for 18 holes and could hit the ball more than 150 yards – a feat that turned out to pay dividends.

“On summer days, I’d hang around the ladies’ tee near the sixth hole waiting for Mrs. Fritz to come along. An irrigation ditch crossed the fairway about 100 yards out, and Mrs. Fritz could never quite carry it. ‘Arnie,’ she’d call over to me sweetly, ‘come here and I’ll give you a nickel to hit my ball over that ditch.’"

He never once failed.

The swimming pool, dining room, locker room and club lounge at Latrobe CC were also off limits to the Palmers.

"I was raised in a country-club atmosphere, but I was never able to touch it,” Arnold said. “It was like looking at a piece of cake and knowing how good it was, but not being able to take a bite."

Because Arnie and Cheech were forbidden to swim at the club, they frolicked in a rock-edged stream that skirted the golf course and their house near the old sixth hole.

“Ironically, that creek was the source of the pool’s water, and our favorite running joke for years was that we at least got to pee in the club’s swimming pool water before the country club kids did,” Palmer said.

On Friday nights, Deacon and Doris would take their kids to the movies. Afterward, Deacon hosted a big poker game at the Palmer house, and on Saturday nights, Doris often prepared a feast and invited couples to come over and play cards.

By age 11, Palmer was caddying at the club, which meant he got to play with other caddies when the course was closed on Mondays. His game improved rapidly, and he won the club’s caddie tournament five times.

Latrobe CC had small, moist greens that best received a low, hard shot, and Palmer groomed his game around hitting low liners that would land and roll rather than high shots that would land softly. He became adept at hitting a 1-iron and could get 210 to 230 yards out of it. Latrobe CC had very few bunkers, and Arnold’s father wouldn’t allow him to chip and scuff around the greens. As a result, Arnold’s short game was his weak link for years.

A dozen years after Arnold was born, Deacon and Doris felt financially secure enough to have more children. Arnold’s brother Jerry was born in 1944, his sister Sandy in 1948.

Beginning at age 12, Palmer began playing junior tournaments around Pennsylvania. He shot 71 to win his first-ever high school match. He won the West Penn Junior, five West Penn Amateur titles, the Pennsylvania State High School Championship twice and then enrolled at Wake Forest on a golf scholarship.

He regards his years at Wake Forest as some of the happiest of his life.

“Out from under my father’s stern sphere of influence for the very first time, I spread my wings and had a hell of a lot of fun, forged a host of lifelong friendships and got my first taste of winning golf tournaments on a national level,” Palmer said. He was a two-time winner of the Southern Conference Championship and two-time National Intercollegiate medalist.

But his Wake Forest years were also marked by tragedy. His best friend, Buddy Worsham, whom he had followed to Wake Forest, was killed in a car accident in 1950.

Arnold Palmer at Wake Forest

Palmer (L) with Buddy Worsham (R) and W.F. coach Johnny Johnston

Palmer was shaken to the core and his grades rapidly declined. He dropped out of Wake Forest and enlisted in the Coast Guard. After three years of service, he received an honorable discharge and was readmitted to Wake Forest, but left again, without graduating, after one semester.

Not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, he returned to Cleveland, where he had been stationed in the Coast Guard, and took a job as a paint salesman.

Wanting to remain in golf yet not wanting to become a club pro like his father, Palmer was torn.

"Back then, the golf pro wasn't even admitted to his own clubhouse," he said. "And I was too proud to live my life as some kind of second-class citizen."

Luckily, decisions about his future became much more clear after he won the 1954 U.S. Amateur, then turned pro shortly thereafter.

Professional golf took Palmer to all corners of the earth, but he always returned to Latrobe. There, he has always been, and always will be, Arnie Palmer.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.