Palmer's passing stirs vivid memories of the King

By Brandel ChambleeDecember 19, 2016, 1:05 pm

A century passes and depending on one’s age, maybe 10 years are so indelibly marked that the mere utterance of the number brings to mind an event. 1961: Roger Maris hits 61 home runs. 1974: Richard Nixon resigns. 1945: World War II ends. You know those connections instantly. 2016 was that kind of year. The King died.

Once in a great while the future can be foreseen. When Tiger won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, no one doubted that the history books were about to get dented up. But mostly, clairvoyance is impossible. Nobody could’ve predicted Arnold Palmer’s popularity.

Sure he was handsome and muscular, but so was Frank Stranahan. Arnold won often enough, eight times each in 1960 and 1962, but Byron Nelson won 18 tournaments, including those 11 in a row, in 1945. Sam Snead won 10 times in 1950 and even Paul Runyan won nine times in 1933. Arnold had a great come-from-behind win at the U.S. Open in 1960 when he started the final round seven shots back, shot 65 and won. But just the year before, Bob Rosburg had won the PGA Championship from six back with 18 to play, and in 1950 Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open after having been near death from a 1949 head-on collision with a bus.

It wasn’t any one thing that made Arnold Palmer the King, it was everything. He was handsome and muscular. He won often, and in dramatic ways that would bring the crowd to a whirling mass of astonishment. He lost, too, and his knees would buckle and his body would contort in some kabuki pose of self-chastisement. It was as if he were the home team of every city in America and they had just lost the big game and an entire country's worth of fans threw their arms in the air and screamed at the TV over the inequity.

Sports may just be about entertainment, but in an ideal way - OK, maybe in a romantic way - we want it to convey values, too. We don’t need our sports stars to be worthy of our admiration - think of Kobe Bryant or Ty Cobb - but it would be nice if they were. There was an integrity to the way Arnold Palmer played golf and a humility to the way he interacted with sports fans and members of the media. He was unfailingly polite and generous with his time, time and time again.



Great golfers have a kinesthetic sense, where they are able to match themselves to the landscape, simultaneously matching themselves to the weather conditions and to the topography that their ball must traverse in flight and upon landing. Arnold Palmer had this, but in the exact same way he could sense the appropriate way to talk to an individual and to handle himself in any situation.

Such was his gift of charisma that his popularity wasn’t just specific to the knowledgable sports fan. Sports nuts and those who didn’t follow sports knew him equally. Nor was his appeal dependent upon one’s demographic or nationality. He was universally loved by the man who worked with his hands, by scientists, politicians and generals, artists and the biggest stars in Hollywood. 

In the summer of 1981 I went to Great Britain to play golf. One day, while playing at Carnoustie, I was paired with an artist by the name of Harold Riley. Some 21 years before that summer, Harold had been sent to St. Andrews to sketch some pictures of an American who had won the 1960 U.S. Open and the Masters. There was Grand Slam talk for the first time since Bobby Jones, 1930. Arnold Palmer had never played The Open and Harold Riley had never seen the man he was to paint.

Exiting the train at St. Andrews, Harold went for a walk across the links, sketching the landscape and people as they crisscrossed the fairways. One man drew his attention for the way he moved. For the way he drew on that Salem cigarette as if it were his muse. For the way he slashed at the ball and cocked his head and the way he strode from hole to hole through the peloton of patrons. It turned out to be Arnold Palmer.

As the week went by Harold Riley painted and sketched the man who would be King many times over. In one scene Palmer was leaning on his putter as he waited for his turn to play with that Salem cigarette, giving off a thin line of smoke, hanging from his mouth. In another he was somewhere in the finish of his swing, with turf and dirt and sinew flying everywhere.

Over the years as I got to know Harold his popularity grew (he painted presidents and popes)  and he made a gift of many paintings to me. One of them is a pencil sketch of Palmer at St. Andrews in 1960, where he finished second to Kel Nagle. Palmer has his legs crossed, is leaning on his putter and wearing a cardigan sweater, the last button left fashionably undone. He is staring off at something he needed to figure out, caught perfectly in the vacuum of competition.

In 1983, I made a pilgrimage to Los Angeles to play Riviera. There I ran into a group of men who were laughing and wisecracking and playing fast off the 18th tee. One of them was the head of Columbia pictures, another was one of the men who produced "All in the Family." Bud Yorkin was his name, as I recall. Another, who had a big Rolex watch on his wrist as he played, was a man by the name of Rudy Durand. After the round, I met them for drinks in the club. Somewhere in the course of that post-round banter, Rudy said, “Friendship is serious business,” and the look in his eyes when those words left his mouth, well, it made you want to be his friend. As the years went by, decades even, he became one of my best friends. Rudy was also best friends with one of the biggest movie stars of all time, Jack Nicholson.

I played a few rounds of golf at Riviera with Rudy and Jack and I found out, among the many things that Nicholson loved, he loved art, he loved golf ... and he loved Arnold Palmer. So a few years ago, when “The Colonel” as Rudy calls Jack, (after his iconic, “You can't handle the truth!!!” role as Colonel Jessup) in "A Few Good Men") turned 75 and Rudy and I were talking about what one gives to someone who has every material possession, every kind of professional admiration, for such a monumental birthday.

When I got back to my home in Scottsdale I boxed up the Harold Riley picture of Arnold Palmer and sent it to Rudy to give to Jack for his 75th birthday. A few days later, Rudy called and after the usual greeting of lovable insults, he told me Jack had said that the gift made him smile and made him cry.

Arnold Palmer could do that. He did it to us all.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.