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Arnie: Man above myth and legend

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

(Editor’s note: Sept. 10, 2014 was Arnold Palmer’s 85th birthday. Today, Sept. 10, 2017, would have been the King's 88th. We celebrated Golf Channel’s co-founder over multiple articles, which are linked to throughout this story, focusing on all aspects of his remarkable life and career. Click here for the complete list.)

LATROBE, Pa. – As soon as he pauses … you know the question has him.

This response, if offered honestly, requires a level of introspection, and introspection at 85 years old can dig deep and touch all kinds of nerves.

Four, five, six seconds pass …

He can’t speak with his mouth so he lets his hands to the talking – a thumbs-up. There’s no mistaking what that means: The words are there; they just can’t come out at the moment. But they will, and everything is fine.

As Arnold Palmer makes his second attempt to answer, this unexpectedly emotional response takes hold again.

And there, there in the right corner of his right eye sets a tear, welled up and shimmering in the camera lights. You just can’t look away at this moment. Golf’s most masculine of men is trying – fighting – to not cry.

This isn’t weakness we are witnessing; this is nostalgia, a heart-felt appreciation for a prodigious life lived.

What does it do to you, to walk into this office every day?

That’s the question. That’s the one that got him.

Mr. Palmer’s office is magnificent, in part because it is so understated. Neither the exterior design nor the interior space seems fit for a king. But Mr. Palmer never clung much to that moniker, anyway.

Tucked away a short, uphill cart ride from Latrobe CC, his signature umbrella logo decorates the entrance.

Then you walk in and see stuff everywhere. You just hope it’s the good stuff. And it is.

Turn right and look straight ahead: a Masters Tournament trophy, the silver replica of the Augusta National clubhouse. It’s just sitting there, unconfined.

On the back wall, trophies. Let’s see: '60 U.S. Open; Ryder Cup replica from the '95 dinner; '80 U.S. Senior Open; '62 British Open claret jug; '54 Havemeyer for winning the U.S. Am.

All exposed and just begging to be touched. It’s OK. It would be criminal not to run your fingers along the base or let your hands grip the neck. You think this opportunity is going to happen again?

Everywhere you look there is something that needs to be seen: keys to various cities; major badges; Ryder Cup patches and bags; wall collections of magazine appearances; more crystal than Swarovski.

And the pièce de résistance: an 8-foot vertical case containing Mr. Palmer’s Congressional Gold Medal; Medal of Freedom; awards presented by presidents and foreign dignitaries; and resting above them all, the Hickok Belt, which from 1950-76 was awarded annually to the top professional athlete in all of sport. Arnold Palmer reigned in 1960.


Arnold Palmer discusses his father and lessons learned

Click here for the full collection of 'Arnie' stories


Little wonder he gets teary-eyed thinking about this place. He wakes up in the morning, gives wife Kit a kiss and off he goes to his office.

“And I do go,” he says with emphasis.

His life is in this building. His accomplishments are there to be absorbed. Photographs of his family adorn the walls of his office proper. Across a short walkway are hundreds upon hundreds of golf clubs (mostly Callaway), combined with other golf artifacts and Pittsburgh team sports memorabilia.

If that’s not enough, this is home. This is where he was born and raised, the oldest of four kids to Milfred “Deacon” and Doris Palmer. Born on this day – Sept. 10 – 85 years ago.

The Palmers, by Arnold’s admission, were poor but lived modestly. If you don’t have much, you make do with what you have. Deacon taught that to his first-born boy.

This is how you eat your food. This is how you behave. Better act like somebody. Yes, sir. No, ma’am.

Those are the basics. You let them be your foundation. Oh, you might not like it now, but you will, boy. It’ll mean something when you get older.

Pap was right.

“Put your hands here and here,” he commanded as he molded his son’s grip on a cut-down golf club. “Now look at that and remember it. Don’t ever change.”

That’s one of Arnold’s first memories. Even then, at 3 years old, he knew Pap was not one to be disobeyed.

Remember running around in those western Pennsylvania woods, guns a-blazin’? Sometimes you’d play cowboys, sometimes you’d take that makeshift club and hit anything resembling a golf ball.

Those are the memories. The ones that cause pause.

And those hands. Those mighty hands, hardened and strengthened by farm work and fist fights, chin-ups and rope climbing.

Jack Nicklaus said those hands were born to hold a golf club. Gotta figure he’d know. Have two athletes been more intrinsically linked than the both of you?

Those hands. Lord, the thrills. Taking that visor and whipping it off your head after winning the ’60 U.S. Open. Could be the most indelible image in golf history. Certainly in the top five.

The pain they caused, as well.

Congratulations!

DON’T DO IT, ARNOLD! Remember what Pap said: Don’t get ahead of yourself; finish the job.

But you can’t resist the siren call from a friend in the gallery. You’ve gotta shake that hand and thank him. And so a one-shot lead on the final hole in the ’61 Masters turns into a one-stroke defeat.

It wasn’t all about wins and losses, though. Mark McCormack knew that.

When the two of you shook hands and agreed to work together he didn’t market you as Arnold Palmer the Great Champion. You were Arnold Palmer, All-American.

You weren’t just a golfer; more than a Hall of Fame golfer. You were a business man, a family man, a leader of men, an aviator, an architect and a philanthropist. You were a TV pioneer, Brando in steel spikes. And when cigarettes were deemed dangerous, you knew what you had to do, because you were a role model, too.

Age and opportunity haven’t changed things. You are still all of those things to all of the people you’ve touched.

Along those lines, has anyone ever shaken more hands than you? Those big catcher’s mitt hands of yours. To shake them means something – to you and others. They swallow the average man’s hands, but don’t overwhelm them. There is a comfort in your handshake. Maybe it’s because you look a person in the eye when you shake their hand. That matters. It’s a basic manner, something Pap taught you.

You built your life on the foundation your father set: treat others the way you want to be treated; sign your name so people can read it; take your hat off when you enter a building.

So simple, but these things matter.

And people matter. You played for them as much as for yourself, maybe more so. And be it peasant or president, you give each person the same thing: your attention. Do you know how much that is worth to an individual? To meet someone so admired, so worldly famous and for them to care … about you?

You’ve passed down so much over the years. Lee Trevino says today’s players should say a prayer of thanks for you every night. If only your manners could cross generational lines.

Remember that time when you were about to hit a tee shot and a woman came running up, asking for your autograph in the middle of your swing? You came to a screeching halt … looked that woman dead in her eyes … and said, of course. And when she said thank you, you responded, thank you for asking.

You probably don’t remember that, since it wasn’t a one-time thing. But those who witness such things do.

And now here you are, in your office, in a chair, under the lights. Those big, strong hands, once resting comfortably on your lap, now clenched. And after a second, and a third attempt you are able to answer.

What does it do to you, to walk into this office every day?

“Very important,” you say. “I come into this office and it starts my day. It makes me think of all the things I enjoy in my life.”

When the interview concludes, you finally relent and wipe away those tears with those distinguished hands of yours.

Outside of the office it’s a very bright day at Latrobe CC. Very blue. A steady breeze sweeps away the falling elm leaves.

And here you come, later in the afternoon, driving up to the back porch in your golf cart. Two bags strapped in, but no golf to be played today. You stop and look to your right.

“Mr. Palmer,” a youngish man acknowledges.

“How are you?” you reply.

“Just fine, thank you. Yourself?”

“Oh, I’m doing just fine as well.”

This time, there is no hesitation.

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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.