Arnie: The King and his army of fans

By Jason SobelSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

So, you want to know about Arnie’s Army? You want to know about the legion of fans that followed Arnold Palmer’s every action like he was the pied piper, hanging on his every movement and boisterously cheering each birdie with reckless adoration? Check the scrapbooks. From Latrobe to Luxembourg, there exist photos of wide-eyed devotees forgetting to mug for the camera, instead staring open-mouthed at their hero as he offers a knowing wink toward the lens.

If you really want to learn something, though, if you really want to understand what made Palmer the consummate fan favorite, you’ll have to check the history books. Specifically, the one from the 1961 Masters.

All these years later, the sting has hardly worn off. He won seven career major championships, but the Green Jacket That Got Away was a product of his own accord. The most enduring memory of Arnie’s Army isn’t one that tugs on the heartstrings. It has nothing to do with Palmer being figuratively hoisted to victory by his legion of fans. Rather, it’s a story of his fans taking hold of him, swallowing him whole in the moment.

Palmer had birdied the 17th hole, giving him a one-stroke advantage over Gary Player with one hole remaining in his search for a third Masters title. He piped his drive down the 18th fairway, and then spotted a familiar face nearby.

“An old friend through the years had helped me a little with my putting and given me a little confidence in my game,” Palmer recalls decades later, a tinge of ruefulness still echoing through his voice. “He waved me over to the edge of the ropes. I made a mistake that my father taught me when I was a little boy not to ever do. He put out his hand and he says, ‘You won it, boy, great going.’ My mind left my body. Just went away. And I proceeded to, short story, make 6 on the last hole and lose the Masters. That was the saddest situation that I had here.”

Looking back on it, it’s easy to proclaim that he made a mistake. It’s simple to say he should have remained focused, finishing out the impending victory with a routine par. Then he could have glad-handed everybody within the Augusta city limits if he wanted.

That wasn’t Arnie, though. Not to condemn him for a lack of focus, because that wasn’t the case, but he saw himself as both a showman and a professional golfer. For as much as the fans idolized their conquering – and, sometimes, blundering – hero, he needed them even more.

Arnold Palmer

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When it comes to golf’s Big Three – those ubiquitous superstars whose appeal has crossed continents and generations – each holds a unique separation from the others. Jack Nicklaus is the one who owns the most major championships. Gary Player is the one who has the most frequent-fli er miles. Palmer? Well, he’s the one who’s signed the most autographs – and while there’s no counter attached to the right hand that has produced that distinctive signature over and over, it’s a good bet that the score really isn’t close.

Palmer has taken such pride in the fact that he not only signs more, but more legibly than anyone else, that stories of his insistence have become the stuff of legend.

Peter Jacobsen remembers taking part in an exhibition with him at Annandale Country Club in Los Angeles, back when he was still an ambitious young pro. It’s a story of how a casual interview session led to him being chastised by a man whom he revered.

“At one point, I signed a hat and handed it to Arnold,” Jacobsen has often retold. “He shoved it back in my face, and he said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘That's my autograph.’ He said, ‘I can't read it. That scribble may be OK on a check because your banker is not going to look at it, but if somebody wants you to sign a piece of memorabilia, you'd better be able to sign it so he can read it."

Palmer was strong before weight rooms existed. He was cool when Elvis Presley and Steve McQueen were cool. He was a sex symbol before those words could even be whispered on national television.

The fans came for those reasons, but they stayed for the golf.

He played the game as he lived his life. Aggressive, swashbuckling, emotional. It remains an iconic image, Palmer flicking his cigarette, steadying himself over the ball, hitching up his slacks and taking a mighty lash at the ball. He rarely got cheated on his swing. It was a strategy that didn’t always work, but did always endear him to the galleries.

“Well, I enjoyed the people, the fans that were coming out and rooting,” he explains. “I played to them as much as for them and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed getting in the thick of it and hearing them cheering me on and pushing me.” It was a two-way love affair spawned in the mid-20th century and spanning three generations. It was the type of dalliance that doesn’t exist any longer, in today’s age of message boards and haters and constant criticism. Palmer didn’t play golf in an era before pessimism; he just somehow rose above it.

He wasn’t just an idol to the fans, either. Palmer captivated fellow pros of all ages and talent levels. If the ticket-holders just wanted to catch a glimpse, the other players all wanted to hang around him.

Fuzzy Zoeller: “It’s how he treated people off the golf course. Classy act. Never, ever had a bad word to say about anybody.”

Dow Finsterwald: “It was eye contact. And then the thumbs up. They thought it was for them personally, just one and only.”

Tom Watson: “When I grew up, I was a member of Arnie's Army, and then Jack came along and beat Arnie, and I couldn't stand Jack.”

For many stars, the unending adulation gets old after a while. Away from the bright glare of the spotlight, behind the curtain of isolation, these stars will admit to needing private time. They will turn down an autograph request here, rebuff an appeal for a photograph there.

Nothing wrong with that, as celebrity shouldn’t overshadow the ability to live life without being confined to a bubble.

It’s just that Palmer has never seen it that way. Even now, at the age of 85, he signs for every autograph request, poses for every photograph appeal.

“That’s his job,” says his daughter, Peggy. “I mean, that’s why he has what he has; it’s why he does what he does; it’s why we have what we have.”

His grandson, Sam Saunders, agrees: “He truly loves his fans. It’s true. I’m not just saying that. He respects them. He loves them. And he knows that he wouldn’t be who he is without all of their support.”

Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer's fans share in his dejection after losing the '61 Masters (Getty)

There’s no way of knowing exactly how many times Palmer stepped toward the gallery ropes during a tournament round and exchanged pleasantries with members of his army. It was more than he can remember. It was enough that it wasn’t a pattern or a trend. It was just what he did.

The afternoon of April 10, 1961, was no different.

Palmer led the Masters by a single stroke on the final hole and decided to shake hands with an old friend not because he lost focus or suffered an atypical brain cramp or even because he just made a mistake.

No, he shook hands with an old friend because that’s what he did. New friends, too. This scenario wasn’t an exception to the rule; it was the rule itself. He lost the Masters that day just by being himself, which is the very same reason he won so many other tournaments.

He still rues that day, still wishes he hadn’t meandered from the fairway, still wishes he had eight majors to his name and five Masters titles. Maybe he understands it a little bit better, though, than he did back then.

"I never thought for one minute that I wasn't going to win," he said after the round that day. "I had a one-shot lead, but I kind of forgot you have to finish."

Or perhaps for those few minutes, he simply forgot to stop being Arnold Palmer.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.