Arnie: Palmer's legacy greater than golf

By Jason SobelSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

I’m staring at the cursor on my laptop screen, instantly regretting the words being typed by my fingers. My assignment today is to write about Arnold Palmer’s legacy, but I loathe the concept. After all, a legacy is a lasting contribution from a person, conceived as a testament to their honor. It’s also an insinuation that their legacy is cemented, that they are done, that soon enough even the most immortal souls among us will meet their own mortality and just like that, they’ll be gone.

I don’t want to write about Mr. Palmer’s legacy, because that would be an admission that he will someday be gone. And I’m not ready for that. Not many of us are.

By the way, it’s always “Mr. Palmer.” Sure, when writing about his sublime historical record and everything he’s meant to the game of golf, the surname “Palmer” will suffice; and yes, when speaking tangentially of his quick wit and mass appeal, a rhapsodic summoning of “Arnie” is patently acceptable.

When speaking with him face-to-face, though, when asking a question about the good ol’ days or engaging in a colloquial conversation about the weather, he is always, without fail, addressed as “Mr. Palmer.”

I wish I could understand it. I’ve never called any boss I’ve had Mr. anything. When I run into old junior high teachers who implore, “Call me Fred,” I accept their offer. I’ve started interviews of Jack Nicklaus with the words, “So, Jack…” and I’ve started friendly chats with Gary Player by crowing, “Hi Gary…” I don’t know why. They are no less honorable than Arnold Palmer, no less approachable or influential or legendary.

It’s not as if Mr. Palmer demands it, either. The reality is, with so many people acting so reverentially toward him on a daily basis, you get the sense that the boy from working-class Latrobe would rather be addressed as, “Hey, buddy…” or even something more playfully disparaging. Anyone want to take a guess on the number of times a stranger mistakenly called him “Arnie” and he scolded them by replying that he’s “Mr. Palmer”? Chances of that ever having occurred are exactly zero percent.

The last time I saw him was a few months ago at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, his Orlando home for nearly a half-century. He was camped out in his golf cart, just left of the first tee. A poet might proclaim that it was an image of the King presiding over his court, but that would be too eloquent. It was, simply, Mr. Palmer in his element – surrounded by the faint scent of freshly mown grass on a nearby fairway and the unmistakable sound of a faraway tee shot struck too close to the toe.

A look inside Arnold Palmer's famed warehouse in Latrobe, Pa.

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Along with some colleagues, I approached him. White hair wispy in the breeze, friendly smile across his face, he asked if we’d enjoyed playing the course that day. “Yes, Mr. Palmer,” we all answered in unison, four grown men instantly reduced to wide-eyed schoolchildren in his presence. We posed for photos with him – I’ve got about eight or nine now and keep adding to the collection, because, well, why wouldn’t I? – and each of us ended the encounter with a hearty handshake and a “Thank you, Mr. Palmer.”

Within a few minutes, he drove the cart – the one with two bags on the back, both his – about 30 yards, over to the far right side of the Bay Hill driving range. A bucket of balls at his feet, he proceeded to execute that familiar lash through each one. It was no longer his powerful horsewhip of the 1960s; he struggled to make a full rotation in his backswing and the ball hardly exploded off his clubface. After about 10 minutes, he rested, leaning on a mid-iron like a cane. The look on his face read pensive, but I could have sworn it was only masking his disgust.

Maybe this is his legacy, I thought. Maybe the lasting impression he’s left on all of us is that we can never stop improving, that even decades removed from our greatest triumphs, we can still dig for secrets in the dirt on a random overcast Wednesday afternoon.

This is the part I loathe thinking about, and loathe typing even more.

Mr. Palmer shouldn’t have a legacy yet, because he isn’t done. He isn’t finished swapping stories on the first tee, isn’t finished beating balls into the cavernous sky.

That’s the assignment, though, and so even though my mind wanders elsewhere, to thoughts of a world in which he remains immortal, forever trying to improve his swing, my fingers keep typing thoughts I don’t want to think about.

He’ll be remembered for his records, of course – and just in case he isn’t, Wikipedia will always be around to remind us that he won 26 times as an amateur and 95 times as a professional and seven times in a major championship. Those numbers – some of them, at least – pale in comparison with the likes of Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. He wasn’t the greatest to ever play the game, and yet he might be golf’s career leader in being spoken about in hushed tones, on the same leaderboard with Old Tom Morris and Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan.

He’ll be remembered for his hospitals – those bearing both his name and that of Winnie, his late first wife. Every day, in actions of obliviousness that would leave a golf fanatic incredulous, patients walk through these front doors with no knowledge of Arnold Palmer and his importance within the game’s foundation. They only know this as a sanctuary where they are healed or consoled or bring a new life into the world. Thousands of parents can proudly claim their children were born “at Palmer” – and if that’s not reason enough for a legacy, then nothing is.

He’ll be remembered for his eponymous drink – three parts iced tea, one part lemonade – that caught on when he first special-ordered it in a Palm Springs clubhouse while designing a golf course there. I know, it doesn’t have quite the significance of historical achievements or building hospitals, but let’s recap: The man has a beverage known worldwide by his name. That’s the stuff of Roy Rogers and Shirley Temple. Oh, and to answer the question he’s been asked a million times before: When he orders one these days, he just asks for a Palmer.

He’ll be remembered for all of these things, but when other greats of the game – his peers – are asked about his legacy, they all point to his influence on the game he loves.

“Arnold’s legacy is that people followed him, people adored him,” Nicklaus says. “He was probably the most popular person to ever play the game.”

“He stimulated the interest in the average person and the companies in supporting golf,” explains Billy Casper. “It wasn’t until he started really thriving and being successful in the late ’50s and ‘60s that golf really took off.”

“Listen,” Lee Trevino implores in his inimitable drawl. “Let me tell you what his legacy is: Every one of these kids that are playing today should have Arnold Palmer’s picture in their house and kiss it every morning. That’s it.”

They’re right, I know. They’ve nailed it, in more introspective terms than I could ever hope to produce. They know it because they lived it. They witnessed the era before he placed his personal stamp on the game; and the one during his heyday, when golf transformed from a country club activity to one the masses watched on television; and the one we’re currently entrenched in, where everything elite pro golfers do – from their swings to their interviews to their involvement with fans – is colored by what’s been passed down through generations by the man they still refer to as Mr. Palmer.

The cursor is still blinking. I’ve written this much and still don’t have an answer for why a man known simply as “Arnie” to millions of adoring fans is called “Mr. Palmer” whenever he’s addressed. Sure, respect and reverence have plenty to do with it, but we respect lots of people who don’t receive such honorary treatment.

There’s something bigger about him, something intangible that can’t fit onto a Wikipedia page.

It’s not just his record as one of the all-time greats, nor is it his influence on multiple generations in the game. It’s bigger than golf. Bigger, even, than the hospitals in his name and the drink that will endure long after he’s finally proven to be mortal. Maybe it has something to do with the man I witnessed that April afternoon, beating range balls into the sky, hoping to recall a trick or two before his 85th birthday.

More than likely, it’s all of these things together.

Whatever reasons we have for calling him “Mr. Palmer” all these years, that’s his legacy. I just loathe thinking about it, because I don’t want to believe that he will someday be gone.

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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

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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 hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked 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.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

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 the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

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 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. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

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

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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.