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Arnie's Army honors its irreplaceable King

By Mercer BaggsOctober 4, 2016, 5:49 pm

(Editor's note: Sept. 25, 2017 is the one-year anniversary of Arnold Palmer's death. In tribute to the King, we revisit this article from his memorial service on Oct. 4, 2016.)

LATROBE, Pa. – They say it’s the busiest day in the history of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. One hundred and ten private jets, they say.

Only one person could draw such a crowd.

And what a crowd. So many who need but one name: Jack, Tom, Ernie, Annika, Nancy, Nick, Phil, Lee, Fuzzy, Curtis, Davis.

Rickie and Bubba brought Samuel Ryder’s trophy.

So many people. Upwards of 900 at Saint Vincent Basilica. Former players, current players, power players in the game. So much influence and fame gathered in one place.

In remembrance of one man. The man.

“This is the elite battalion of Arnie’s Army.” – Charlie Mechem, master of ceremony and former LPGA commissioner.

Andy Roskosh is there as well.

Andy Roskosh? There are lots of Andy Roskosh’s at Saint Vincent’s College on Tuesday. Some at Chuck Noll Field, sitting in the stands on this postcard perfect day and watching the memorial service on enlarged video monitors. Some in the Student Center. Some in the Performing Arts Center. Some in the gymnasium.

Some came from down the road. Some drove from neighboring states. One guy flew in from Hong Kong.

Roskosh, 20, played on the golf team at Hempfield High School in nearby Landisville. He said he met Mr. Palmer a couple of times. The first time unforgettable. The second time …

“He remembered my name,” Roskosh said. “He’s met millions of people and he still remembers your name. It just shocks you.

“People say they’ve met presidents, kings and queens, and no one makes them more nervous than meeting Arnold Palmer.”

That’s because presidents and kings and queens don’t care, and you know it. The King did, and you knew that, too.

He had that other thing. The incredible ability to make you feel good – not just about him – but about yourself.” – Tim Finchem, PGA Tour commissioner, speaking during the service.

Saint Vincent Basilica Parish was formed in 1790. It is 230 feet from front to back, east to west. The back towers are 150 feet high. The front towers are 195 feet high. It’s a remarkable sight, with the 18 rose-colored granite columns and 27 stained glass windows. Christ on the cross hangs above an altar of Carrera marble.

Palmer had a long-standing relationship with Saint Vincent College, dating back to his boyhood days when he’d tag along with his father, Deacon, and play on the grounds. He attended concerts there, gave swing demonstrations and helped establish the 50-acre Winnie Palmer Natural Reserve.

Palmer gave the 150-year commencement speech there, telling graduates: “I appeal to you to try to restore a kinder, more gentle atmosphere to this world of ours. Only an all-out effort to get back to the basic values and virtues of humanity will give future generations the quality of life our forefathers worked and sacrificed for, to give us the standards of life we have enjoyed in our time.”

Palmer really did care about others. It wasn’t for show or something he did to market himself. This is why the airport tarmac is jammed and the parking lots are packed. This is why they have gathered from all corners to pay homage.

“I called him and he said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m at home. Where are you?’ ‘I’m with the president.’ [Pause] ‘The president of what?’” – Sam Saunders, Palmer’s grandson, speaking during the memorial service.

Imagine that. Sitting in the Oval Office with the president of the United States and answering your phone on the first ring.

“Why did you answer?” Saunders asked. “I wanted to talk to you,” his grandfather responded.

Saunders was brilliant on Monday. They were all great. Jim Nantz, Vince Gill, Peter Dawson, Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam, Finchem, Mechem, Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B., and the rest.

On the orders of Mechem, they kept it positive. This was a celebration of Arnold Palmer’s life. There were lots of laughs and applause, but none could disguise their sorrow.

The last time Sam talked to Dumpy, the nickname given to Palmer when granddaughter Emily was trying to call him grumpy, was at 4:10 p.m. on Sept. 25. Palmer was getting prepped for surgery the next day and answered, again, on the first ring.

“He told me to take care of my babies,” Saunders said. “Take care of my children. Take care of my family. I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me back.”

Palmer died less than two hours later.

“I know it’s time, but I never wanted it to end.” – Nantz, speaking during the service, recalling what Palmer told him prior to his final round in the Masters.

There are remembrances everywhere in and around Latrobe. Billboards, makeshift tributes and lots and lots of signs. We Love You Arnie. We Miss You Arnie. Fly With The Angels Arnie.

It’s a chilly Monday night, some 15 hours before the memorial service begins. Downtown Latrobe looks stuck in time, an easier time, a time that could never imagine a handheld phone telling you its 59 degrees outside.

Nearby, down Arnold Palmer Drive, Latrobe Country Club is open for view. A road intersects fairways and you can make your way unimpeded toward the clubhouse. Palmer’s ashes were spread along the property last Thursday during a private ceremony, in the same area as his first wife Winnie.

There’s not much going on this evening. The most bustling place is Youngstown Tire Service, which is three cars deep in each of three bays, so there’s work to be done.

Maybe it’s just a stranger’s perspective, but there’s a peacefulness here, a simplicity. When you’re raised in a small town, surrounded by other small towns, you can love it or leave it, but you can never abandon it.

“We’ve all gone a lot of places since our days growing up here in Latrobe,” Palmer said at his 50-year high school reunion. “And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all those years, it’s this: Your hometown is not where you’re from. It’s who you are.”

“Remember how Arnold Palmer touched your heart. How he touched your life. And please, don’t forget why.” – Jack Nicklaus, speaking during the memorial service.

You’ll have to picture this one in your mind. You should have plenty of images for references, given the thousands of people there with camera phones and proper cameras and video recorders and satellite trucks.

Picture this man in his black suit, standing outside the Holy Door. They have all come to pay respect to Arnold Palmer, and he is there to greet them. But it’s they who come to him. Each and every one. They shake his hand. They give him impassioned hugs. They embrace and squeeze with genuine emotion.

Cori Britt has been working for Palmer since he was 12 years old, first caddying in Palmer’s weekend foursome at Latrobe Country Club and then carrying the bag for Palmer himself.

Britt went to Saint Vincent College. He graduated on May 11, 1996, the day Palmer gave the commencement speech. He is now the vice president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises.

He spent time with Palmer for most of his days over the last 20 years. Palmer had two daughters, Amy and Peggy. Cori is like a son.

Among the crowd, on the top of the church steps, there is a pause. A second to himself. He folds his arms low across his waist. He looks to his right and then to his left. And for a moment, he is alone.

“There’s an old saying that there are no irreplaceable people. Whoever said that never met Arnold Palmer. There will never be another like you. … Rest easy, old pal.” – Mechem, closing comments at the memorial service.

When the service ends, everyone files out of the church and stands gathered. A bagpiper escorts the Palmer family, playing “Amazing Grace.”

Palmer’s private jet, captained by Pete the Pilot, races by and tilts, one wing down, one wing up.

A thumbs up from the sky.

It then circles around and takes a sharp ascent.

It flies into a sky a color blue only God could create.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''