ORLANDO, Fla. – Without Arnold Palmer, Sunday’s final round at Bay Hill became a team effort.
Peter Jacobsen emceed the trophy presentation, with a few comments from Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders. They presented winner Marc Leishman with a red cardigan, one of Palmer’s favorite pieces of outerwear, not the usual blue blazer.
“I’m very, very happy to be wearing this cardigan,” Leishman said. “It’s an honor, and it’s going to take quite a place in my man cave.”
Palmer usually waited atop the slope to the left of the 18th green to congratulate the final groups and thank them for playing his event. Handling those duties this year was a handful of past tournament chairmen, including Tom Scarbrough and Chip Landon.
“We take it for granted, him being here for the last 50 years,” Brandt Snedeker said, “but it definitely had a different vibe when you walked in the gates here, and it will going forward, because you can’t replace somebody like him.”
To Graeme McDowell, an Orlando resident who was one of the five co-hosts for this year’s event, this week was a reminder of the responsibility that comes with being one of the world’s best golfers on the sport’s biggest stage. It was a chance for players to conduct themselves the way Palmer would. That meant looking fans in the eye. Taking more time to sign autographs. Being a better person, a better professional.
“This week was an opportunity for players to ask themselves: Am I being a role model for kids? Am I doing the right things?” McDowell said.
Several players mentioned that Palmer would have loved a day like Sunday. Each year, one of the first things he’d ask players was what they thought of the course, his baby. This year, it was firm, fast, fiery – a stress test for the game’s best.
“Bittersweet,” Snedeker said. “The best year I’ve ever seen it, he wasn’t here.”