One story, of many stories, that tells of Arnold Palmer

By Joe PosnanskiSeptember 26, 2016, 3:39 am

Let us resolve to tell just one Arnold Palmer story. If we try to do more, if we try to recount or summarize or, dare I say it, capture the essence of the impossibly wonderful life of Arnold Daniel Palmer, well, we will fail miserably. The King did not live a life that can or should be summed up. He was the son of a hardened golf pro and groundskeeper in Latrobe, Pa. He played college golf at Wake Forest. He ran away to join the coast guard.

He returned with a slashing swing and a gambler’s nerve, and he played golf in such a daring way that he made it seem thrilling on television. Palmer was so handsome and carried himself with such an air of cool (“He would show up on the screen and it was like ‘Wham!’” the great TV producer Frank Chirkinian said), that he helped take the game out of the country clubs, he made farm kids and factory kids, small town kids and city kids all dream of Augusta. He won big, and he lost big, and through it all he smiled and waved and treated people with kindness, and an army followed his every move. They named a drink after him.

But, see, all those words fall flat. None of it can describe the true grandeur of Arnold Palmer.

One story. But what should it be? Should it be a story of one of his great victories, like the 1960 U.S. Open, the greatest U.S. Open of them all? Palmer finished the third round with a double-bogey and found himself seven shots behind leader Mike Souchak. His tournament chances were so bleak that one of his best friends just left the golf course and went home.

In those days, they played 36 holes on the last day, and so Palmer went to have a bite to eat with a couple of sportswriters, Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press and Dan Jenkins of the Fort Worth Press.

“Wonder what a 65 would bring this afternoon,” Palmer mused.

“Won’t do you any good,” Drum said.

Well that ticked off Palmer even more, and he went out to the first tee in the afternoon round and unleashed one of the most famous drives in golf history – he drove the green and made birdie. He shot 65 and won the whole thing, even though he was being chased by a 47-year-old Ben Hogan and a 20-year-old Jack Nicklaus.

It’s a great story, but it tells only of victory, it misses the heartbreak of Palmer’s career, the very thing that made him so human and beloved. That was the only U.S. Open he ever won – and he could have won two or three or even four more. The stories of Palmer’s great losses have a majesty all their own. For instance, there was the 1961 Masters – Palmer needed only a par on the 18th hole to win his second consecutive Masters and third in four years. He hit his drive down the fairway, par was a cinch, and then as he remembered it he saw an old friend in the gallery. “You won it, boy!” he shouted.

“And,” Palmer would say, “my mind left my body. Just went away. And I proceeded to, short story, make 6 on the last hole and lose the Masters.”

But this obviously cannot be our one Palmer story, either.

I have a personal story, one I wrote for Palmer’s 87th birthday, a story about how kind Palmer was to me the first time I met him (and every time I saw him after that). Palmer saw a nervous young reporter with no idea what to do, and though he had undoubtedly seen a hundred nervous young reporters, a thousand, he talked to me, inspired me, gave me every sense that he would watch out for me. It was just a small bit of grace from a man who brought a tiny burst of joy and confidence to countless people.

But that is too small a story for Arnold Palmer.

There was the time that Tom Watson met Palmer, back in 1965. Watson idolized Palmer. He would have his greatest duels with Nicklaus, and he admired Nicklaus, revered him, grew to love him, but there was something different about Palmer. Arnie was Watson’s hero. Arnie was the very essence of what a golf hero could be. When Watson first shook the King’s hand before their first exhibition together, he could feel the power – Arnie was famous for crushing Coors beer cans with one hand back before those cans were made of aluminum. Palmer himself was made of steel.

Watson stepped to the first tee of that exhibition match and with all the strength and hope he had in his 15-year-old body he unleashed his first drive in the hopes of impressing the King. “I really caught it,” Watson would say many years later. He thinks the ball sailed and rolled out to almost 300 yards. Watson would never forget the way Palmer’s eyes widened just a little, as if to say: “Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be?”

And then a small smile sprung on Palmer’s face, and he walked up to the tee himself. He put out the cigarette he had been smoking. And without even a warm-up swing, he walloped his drive 20 yards past Watson.

“That was Arnie,” Watson would say. “That was my hero.”

But this story tells only of the young Palmer. And his perseverance was yet another part of his story. There is the older Arnie, who showed up in Kansas City again 40 years after that first exhibition. He came this time to Watson’s charity event. It was an amazing day – there were the five legends who had dominated golf for a quarter century, Palmer and Nicklaus, Watson and Gary Player and Lee Trevino. But the topic was Tiger Woods and how the younger golfers seemed defeated by his greatness.

“Do you wish you were 30 years younger so you could take on this Tiger Woods kid?” Watson asked Palmer. And though Palmer was well into his 70s, though it had been years since he had been competitive, you could see the fire flicker on his face, the same fire that pushed him to charge back and win seven majors and all those tournaments.

“You bet your ass I do,” Palmer said.

No, there is no one story that can do what we need it to do, no one story that can bring Arnold Palmer back to life even for a moment. He died on Sunday at age 87, and for the last 60 or so years he was golf. Nicklaus was greater. Tiger, too. Watson and Player won more major championships. But all of them would tell you that Arnold was the King. He loved the game. He loved competing. He loved winning. He loved people. More than anything, he loved being Arnold Palmer. It was the greatest life he could imagine living.

Maybe there is one story, a small one from 20 years ago in Augusta. It was just before the Masters was to begin, Palmer’s 52nd Masters, and he agreed to play 27 holes over two days with a promising young kid who wanted to pick his brain, a 20-year-old amateur by the name of, yes, Tiger Woods. A couple of days before they went out to play, another guy asked if he could join the group. His name was Jack Nicklaus.

So the three of them went out to play, this marvelous junction of time and space. Palmer was done as a competitive player – he had not made a Masters cut in a dozen years. Nicklaus was still young enough to dream; he had actually led the Masters after the first round a year earlier. And Woods was all promise and wonder. It would be a few more months before he even turned professional and a year before he altered golf with his mind-blowing performance at the 1997 Masters.

When they finished playing their practice rounds together, the media topic was, of course, Tiger. His power and poise had dazzled Palmer and Nicklaus. At the 13th hole, Woods hit a 215-yard 3-iron that left both of them gasping. At times he hit his drives so far, that Palmer would just break out laughing. “Arnold and I walked off the golf course, and we both agreed that you could take his Masters titles and my Masters titles and add them together, and this kid should win more than that.”

It took a fairly quick calculation, even for sportswriters, that since Palmer won four Masters and Nicklaus won six, they were predicting that Woods should win more than 10 green jackets.

“This kid is the most fundamentally sound golfer that I’ve ever seen at any age,” Nicklaus said.

“He’s very impressive,” Palmer said.

So why would this be an Arnold Palmer story? Well, as it turns out, the three of them had a little money on the line because, after all, what fun would it be to play without some wagering. Woods hit the most remarkable shots. Nicklaus played the smartest shots. And ... Palmer took all the money. Well, of course he did. Arnold Palmer was one of the greatest golfers who ever lived. And, every golfer will tell you, he was even better when his own money was on the line.

When it ended, someone asked Palmer how he felt taking money away from a young amateur. He smiled.

“He will make plenty,” Palmer said. “I’ve got to get mine while I can. It’s tough out there.”

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. 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.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.