Arnie: Winnie and Kit, the ladies in Palmer's life

By Bailey MosierSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

The trajectory of Arnold Palmer’s life was forever changed in August 1954 when he won the U.S. Amateur. Little did he know, however, an even bigger surprise awaited him later that year.

After the U.S. Am, Palmer was invited to the Waite Memorial, an amateur tournament with festivities beginning Labor Day weekend in Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, Pa.

“As I was coming back into the inn (from playing a practice round), I saw a couple of pretty girls coming down the stairway that led to the main lobby,” Palmer wrote in his autobiography, "A Golfer's Life." "It was the quieter, prettier, dark-haired one that caught my eye. She had smoky good looks, and her demeanor had a clear sheen of class.”

Palmer was introduced to the two girls and shook hands with Winifred (Winnie) Walzer.

“If you don’t have anything to do, why don’t you come out and watch the golf,” Palmer said.

“Perhaps I will,” she responded with a smile.

Winnie was 19, studying interior design at Brown University’s affiliated design school at Pembroke College. The two connected at dinner the next evening.

Palmer recalled the event in his autobiography: “Winnie, I began to learn that night, was unlike any girl I’d ever met, not just pretty and comfortable in almost any situation, but also smart, well traveled (she’d just come home from a big European trip), engagingly independent minded, even something of a would-be rebel.”

The two were instantly smitten with one another, and Palmer walked away that week with two trophies – he won the tournament, and Winnie accepted his marriage proposal.

“They were very close,” Cori Britt, vice president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, said. “He always called her ‘lover.’ ‘Hey, lover, how you doing?’ They were hand-holders, they were huggers, they were very close. It was sweet.”

Arnold Palmer and family

Arnold Palmer and family in Latrobe, Pa., in 1962 (AP)

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Arnold and Winnie originally planned on a spring wedding and a honeymoon in England after the 1955 Walker Cup (in which Palmer was set to play in St. Andrews, Scotland), but the two grew impatient and plans changed. Winnie wasn’t old enough to wed without her parents' permission, and her father never liked the idea of Winnie marrying a future struggling golf pro, who he doubted could properly provide for his daughter.

With help from Arnold’s sister Lois Jean, or "Cheech" as she was known, who was living with her husband, Ron, in Alexandria, Va., all the arrangements for an elopement were taken care of – the church, the minister and the reception – and Arnold and Winnie got married five days before Christmas in 1954.

“That was the beginning of a 45-year journey of learning,” Palmer wrote in "A Golfer's Life," “through the usual marital ups and downs, through Tour triumphs and personal disappointments she’ll never speak of, all magnified by my evolving success … I was just beginning to discover what I’d really found.”

Winnie traveled with Arnold when he first set out on Tour, but by Christmas 1955, Winnie was far along with the couple’s first child. They knew traveling and living out of suitcases would be difficult with a family, so they built a home in Palmer's birth town of Latrobe, Pa. Peggy was born in February 1956, and the couple had another daughter, Amy, two years later. Winnie stayed home to care for the children and help Arnold with finances and other business matters.

"Winnie has always tried to stay out of the limelight,” Palmer's longtime assistant, Doc Giffin, said. “Over the years, she's declined 10 times as many interviews as she's granted to people who wanted to talk to Mrs. Arnold Palmer. But she's always been there for Arnold when he needed her. She was the mainstay in raising two wonderful daughters. She kept the house and did all the cooking herself. In the early years, she handled a lot of Arnold's business arrangements. … Personally, professionally, in every aspect of his life, Winnie has always been there for Arnold."

“She was really the glue for all of our family,” Arnold and Winnie’s daughter Amy said. “She was just the most accommodating person ever. She had deep, meaningful relationships with everyone, and I think she knew what my father needed and was willing to take a back seat anytime she needed to make sure to put everybody else out front, when in fact she was the one that was so often the person behind the scene and I think she did amazing things juggling and raising a family and trying to be there for my father.”

Winnie died at age 65 on Nov. 20, 1999, from complications of ovarian cancer.

“Just losing her, I mean she was so much to so many of us,” Cheech said. “She’s my best friend, although I wasn’t (in Latrobe) very much; I lived in Washington. But they came through Washington all the time, we got to see each other a lot. She and I went on a lot of trips together, she was so much a part of us. I think my mother and dad loved her as much as they loved the rest of us. She just fit in perfectly.”

“I don’t think there’s ever been anything like Mrs. Palmer and there never will. She was a special lady,” Britt said.

Six years after Winnie died, Arnold married Kathleen (Kit) Gawthrop.

Arnold and Kit Palmer

Arnold and Kit during their first dance as newlyweds in 2005 (Getty)

“It was just a breath of fresh air,” Hollis Cavner, director of the Champions Tour's 3M Championship, said. “What he’d went through with Winnie, and to find Kit, the love he’s got with her now, it really helped him tremendously. … She’s been super for him and a lot of fun to be around. She was absolutely the perfect thing for Arnold to get him back to being the Arnold we know and love.”

Palmer wasn’t the only one happy to welcome Kit into his life.

“I think they were so totally different, my mother and Kit,” Amy (Palmer) Saunders said. “I think the companionship that Kit loves to watch sports, she loves to be at home and I think that’s really what my dad needs. I think he needed someone that enjoys the things he enjoys and I think that everybody embraced Kit in a way that I don’t think, I hope that she never felt that there was this looming presence of my mother.”

There is a looming presence of Winnie, but in a positive way.

“I don’t think it’s hard (living in Winnie’s shadow),” Kit said. "I think it’s nice to see (Winnie ever-present in Arnold’s life at Bay Hill), where she lived and the influence she had here.”

Of all the fortunes Palmer has acquired over the years, where he really struck it rich was in having found two women to share his life who shared him with the world. Both Winnie and Kit understood that as many perks as they would receive from being Mrs. Arnold Palmer, their relationship would be defined by what they gave … to Arnold and as a result, to the world. 

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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.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.