Arnie: Palmer, the presidents' man

By Jason CrookSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

Since the dawn of politicians in the United States, there has been a constant battle among them over every decision imaginable for the greater good of the country.

One thing they can (almost) all agree on, however, is Arnold Palmer. When Palmer became the sixth athlete, and only the second golfer, to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012 for “recognition of his service to the country in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship,” the bill passed 422–1 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

“I’m particularly proud of anything the House and the Senate agree on,” Palmer joked at the time. But it’s no laughing matter: Palmer is a unifying figure, and one thing the men in charge of running this nation have agreed on the last 60 years or so - they all want to be friends with Arnie.

It started in 1958. Palmer, then 28, had just won his first major, a one-stroke victory at the Masters, when he got a message that President Dwight D. Eisenhower would like to play golf the next day at Augusta if he could “spare the time.”

“We played and we became friends. He was president of the United States then and we started hanging out together and I’d meet him for golf and we played some exhibitions for the Heart Fund because he was a heart patient and that was part our business,” Palmer said.

Winnie Palmer even surprised her husband by sending his plane to transport Eisenhower from Gettysburg to Latrobe for Arnie’s 37th birthday celebration.

Arnold Palmer and his relationship with presidents

Click here for the full collection of 'Arnie' stories

"Quite frankly, I don’t know when I’ve had a better time," Palmer told Kingdom magazine of the experience. “We had a ball. He was just so accommodating and what a wonderful man he was. We talked for hours, just sat at a table and talked and it was a lifelong friendship from then on.”

Lifelong friends and trendsetters.

Since that first encounter with Eisenhower, Palmer’s circle of golf buddies has grown into something that sounds like it came out of a fourth-grade history textbook: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. Even John F. Kennedy, who was notoriously hesitant about being seen and photographed on a golf course for political reasons, made a tape of his golf swing in 1963 and intended to invite Palmer to the White House to critique it. First, however, Kennedy had a scheduled trip to Dallas.

An outspoken conservative Republican heavily influenced by his friendship with Eisenhower, Palmer's time spent on the course with Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes seems to make perfect sense. But Palmer’s presidential playing partners made it sound like the conversation never even included politics.

“Palmer likes to identify with good golfers and I’m sure that’s why he is my friend,” George H.W. Bush deadpanned. “He’s abided by the ‘no laughing' rule, which is a very serious rule that I invoke on everybody that plays with me, and he’s been very good about that. For example the whiffed pitching wedge, he doesn’t ever laugh about that.

“Some of these big-shots are so contemptuous of lousy golfers that they make it no fun in some of those pro-am things, but he relaxes you, no matter how bad you are, no matter how good you are. And that’s not an insignificant attribute.”

Perhaps Palmer's most perplexing presidential golf buddy, at least on paper, is Clinton. In the book “Arnie: Inside the Legend,” Palmer is quoted as saying, “If Clinton wins (this election), I won’t have anything left to will (to my daughters).” And while his political views may be the same today, you wouldn’t know it the way he and Clinton pal around the course.

“I’ve played with him and been honored by him numerous times and he’s a good guy, he’s a great guy, very intelligent and not a bad golfer,” said Palmer. “He can hit it a long way, he just doesn’t have a zip code.”

And it’s not just presidents. Arnie’s Army includes celebrities, too.  It’s no coincidence that Palmer, who gets a lot of the credit for making golf cool, was hobnobbing with some of show business' coolest customers, the “Rat Pack,” in his prime.

“I knew (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.) well, but I didn’t spend a great deal of time with them. I played golf with Martin a few times and with the others in pro-ams they were sponsoring. I enjoyed my time with them,” Palmer told

Palmer’s ability to make an impact across generational lines is best illustrated by the famous company he has kept. Over time the names have changed, but the level of recognition has stayed consistent. Eisenhower became Clinton, Sinatra became Justin Timberlake, Bob Hope became Jay Leno, and Ted Williams became Michael Jordan. LeBron James even named a shoe after him last summer, dubbing it the “LeBronald Palmer.”

And if King James, the best basketball player of his generation, paying homage to a golfer he never saw hit a competitive shot doesn’t convince you that the original King still reigns supreme, then maybe this will do the trick. The lasting image from the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational didn’t have anything to do with the tournament. It was an 83-year-old Palmer planting an innocent kiss on the cheek of a supermodel more than 60 years his junior, Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl Kate Upton. It was actually Arnie who played a big role in her rise to superstardom, as if the world needed another reason to be indebted to Mr. Palmer.

Arnold Palmer and Kate Upton

Arnold Palmer and supermodel Kate Upton (@coribritt)

They followed their lunch at Bay Hill with a photo shoot and cover story for Golf Digest, where Palmer gave the blonde bombshell a swing lesson.

It’s this attitude that has endeared Palmer to so many for so long. Whether he’s on the course, pitching products, meeting new people, founding hospitals and television networks or inventing drinks, Arnie never settles, he is always looking for something new and he does it with a big smile. It’s the reason so many presidents wanted to be his friend and it’s the reason some think he could’ve run for office himself.

“Arnold had a great ability to look you in the eye, sign an autograph and he made you feel like you were the only person in the world that he was dealing with at that moment, which is so special. There are very people few people that,” said two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North. “Years back they were talking about Arnold running for senator and he could’ve won, he could’ve been the senator from Pennsylvania in 10 minutes. He could have been the governor of Pennsylvania and if he’d have done that he probably would have ended up being the president.”

President Palmer … has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? But again, why become president when you're already King?

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

Getty Images

LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.