Driving through downtown Latrobe, Pa., and the neighboring areas on the evening of Oct. 3, most was still.
There wasn’t a bustling expectation, but given that thousands of outsiders would be on hand for the following day’s occasion, it was more subdued than expected.
Turns out, most who attended Arnold Palmer’s memorial service flew in on private jets the morning of the fourth. Busiest day in the history of Arnold Palmer Regional, it was said.
Two years ago, the theme of this feature was a lively visit to Palmer’s Latrobe C.C. office. Now, it’s in relation to those who honored his life, just down the road.
There’s a lot about that day, still fresh from a few months ago, that stands out. Golf luminary after golf luminary arriving. Chatting with locals on the campus of Saint Vincent’s College. Exploring Saint Vincent Basilica and embracing the way a grand old church can stir senses.
A handful of national golf writers were on hand. One was filing snippets of live updates. A couple of others were working on longer pieces that didn’t need to meet print deadlines that day. Then there was me, watching on an in-house feed and writing from a church classroom, trying to file as quickly – and appropriately – as possible, in order to catch a deadline looming flight.
All of the tributes that day were touching, but none more so than from grandson Sam Saunders. You can listen to it above. The flyovers, before and after the service, were moving. But there was something else that really captured my attention that day, which I wrote about:
Picture this man in his black suit, standing outside the Holy Door. They have all come to pay respect to Arnold Palmer, and he is there to greet them. But it’s they who come to him. Each and every one. They shake his hand. They give him impassioned hugs. They embrace and squeeze with genuine emotion.
That person was Cori Britt, who, since he was 12, had worked alongside Palmer. Britt is the closest thing to a son Palmer had and the anguish he felt was palpable. It was a difficult day for many, but for those like Britt, longtime assistant Doc Giffin, Saunders and the rest of the Palmer family, it had to be particularly wrenching.
But just as Palmer's career, for all its frustrations and disappointments, will ultimately be remembered for the highs, so, too, will his life.
Leaving the campus that day and briskly walking to the rental car for domesticated travel, there was a feeling of warmth. That after 20 years working for his company, and all the interviews and words written, that this was a wonderful farewell. Not a goodbye. But, fare thee well.