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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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook played a six-hole stretch in 6 under and shot an 8-under 64 in breezy conditions Saturday to take the lead at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook began the run at La Quinta Country Club with birdies on Nos. 4-5, eagled the sixth and added birdies on No. 7 and 9 to make the turn in 6-under 30.

After a bogey on the 10th, he birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 15 and saved par on the 18th with a 20-footer to take a 19-under 197 total into the final round on PGA West's Stadium Course. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player is making his first start in the event. He won at Sea Island in November for his first PGA Tour title.

Fellow former Razorbacks star Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were a stroke back. Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 on the Stadium Course. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. They are both winless on the PGA Tour.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Jon Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium Course to reach 17 under. The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3, Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

Scott Piercy also was two strokes back after a 66 at the Stadium.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and Harkins shot 68 on the Stadium Course.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium Course to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time.

The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. The Southern California recruit had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over for the week.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine – and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.