Fans get personal with Palmer

By Mercer BaggsMarch 25, 2009, 4:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Arnold Palmer never asked to be The King. It was a designation cast upon him, and a crown he has always worn with reluctance.

The common touch, however, was instilled within him. And something he has always carried well and willingly.

Palmer credits his father, Deacon –“Deac” – for not only teaching him how to play the game, but for shaping him into the person he’s been for the last 79 years.

“Well, I guess, you just treat people the way you want to be treated,” Palmer said. “That’s about as simple as I can put it.”

John Jarosky would agree.

Jaroksy, a member at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, had a couple of friends in town a while back. Of course, they wanted to play the course. And, of course, they wanted at least a glimpse of Palmer.

At the time, Palmer had just undergone prostate surgery. According to Jaroksy, he was resting in the back yard of one of the cottages he owns off the 18th fairway.

“Now remember,” Jarosky says, “Mr. Palmer was not feeling very well and was relishing his rest with some peace and quiet.”

Jarosky’s guests, a couple of bold Chicagoans, on the other hand, saw this situation as an opportunity to gather a signature.

“They walked directly into the backyard,” Jarosky recalls. “He (Palmer) stood up out of his chair, which was at the time hard for him to do, smiled and called my friends over for a picture and an autograph.

“He could not have been more gracious. … Besides my father, I can’t think of anyone that actually lives by the motto, ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated,’ more than him.”

Jarosky is not alone in his adoration. Over the years, ever since turning professional in 1954, Palmer has developed a legion of fans – his very own, very well numbered army. People who would follow him on foot like Forrest Gump, from one side of the country to another, and back.

Why?

“He has this uncanny knack to make you feel so comfortable around him,” says Wayne Schmidt of Louisville, Ky.

“He makes you feel really cool and part of his crowd,” says Thomas Kees, who got a chance to hang out with Palmer after playing in a pro-am with him at a Champions Tour event in Houston.

The two were at a charity dinner when the late Dinah Shore walked over. “This is Tom Kees,” said Palmer. “You know Tom, don’t you?” Replied Dinah, “No I don’t, but it’s a pleasure.” To which Palmer responded, “Well you should, as he’s a great guy!”

About 10 years later the two met up again in Fresno, Calif. This time they had dinner with Kees’ wife and son, as well as Palmer’s pilot and caddie.

“The rest of the story is that five days later, I get a letter from Arnold thanking me for the dinner and conversation,” Kees says. “He remembered my wife and son by name and indicated that I had ‘a beautiful family.’ But he was mad because I didn’t let him buy me dinner.”

There are thousands of Tom Keeses across the U.S. and beyond. Thousands of people who shared a moment with Palmer, however fleeting, and left the encounter forever fulfilled.

“I’m sitting cross-legged on the grass at the very front of the large gallery and just inside the gallery rope on No. 9 tee, and here comes Mr. Palmer’s group,” tells John Hoch about attending the old IVB Golf Classic outside of Philadelphia with his father.

“Arnie strides onto the tee, gets his bearings – hitches his pants and pulls a club – and then proceeds to look down squarely at me. He smiles and winks directly at me!

“Of all the people around that tee that day and he somehow chose to smile and wink at me. I’ll never forget it.”

In the early 1980s, at a Champions Tour event in Lexington, Ky., Vic Peek watched as Palmer three-putted the 17th hole. “Tough bogey,” Peek told Palmer as he waited for the rest of the group to finish up. “Palmer squeezed my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, ‘All bogeys are tough, son.’”

Palmer made plenty of bogeys throughout his career. One came on the ninth hole during the 1985 Doug Sanders Celebrity Classic in Houston. This one was particularly tough to take, because as Jay Reppond of Sugar Land, Texas, tells, he completely whiffed his tap-in par putt.

“Putter went right over the ball,” Reppond says, “I couldn’t believe it.”

Reppond had been hoping to get Palmer’s autograph during the players’ walk between the ninth and 10th holes. Now he wasn’t so sure it would be a good idea to approach him.

But he did.

“I got up the nerve,” says Reppond. “He was so gracious and smiled at me. He took my program and signed it. You would think after what just happened he might just pass me by. I will never forget that smile on his face, and the day I walked beside the ‘King.’”

It might seem a little too mushy, these Palmer tales. All this fawning and fond reminiscing. As if he were not without fault or free from sin.

But these are people’s stories. These are their experiences with Palmer.

The fact that each and everyone is positive only goes to showcase the love, respect and appreciation Palmer has for his fans. The fact that they are personal, individual moments – and not ones trumpeted for all to witness – showcases his sincerity.

“My son and I went to a Senior PGA tournament (in 1992) at Inglewood Country Club, near Seattle,” tells Dennis Acorn of Redmond, Wash. “My son (David, 12) and I waited near the parking lot for 20 minutes before a couple of Cadillacs pulled up with Arnie’s entourage.

“David and I were just watching and didn’t want to disturb Mr. Palmer, as he was late getting to the course. He seemed in a hurry to get to the driving range to hit some balls before his tee time.

“As he was heading to the driving range, a lady volunteer stopped Mr. Palmer and said, ‘Mr. Palmer, there is a little boy over there that has been waiting a long time to see you.’”

And what do you think was his response?

“Mr. Palmer stopped in his tracks and immediately came over and knelt down and shook hands with David. He also autographed a visor for him. …That small gesture of his made an impression that neither David nor myself will ever forget.”

The year was 1967. Jeff Roberts was stationed in Chu Lai, South Vietnam at a station surrounded by sand. One day, he and his buddy, Wally Schneider, decided to write Palmer and ask for a sand wedge and a few golf balls.

They didn’t know his address so they just sent it to:

Arnold Palmer
Latrobe, Penn.

Not only did each of the boys get a wedge and a dozen golf balls, they also got a personal note from Palmer thanking them for their service.

The following year, back home in Illinois, Roberts was able to attend the Western Open at Olympia Fields, where he waited outside the clubhouse for Palmer to appear. “I told him I was one of the guys he sent clubs to,” Roberts recalls. “And he asks, ‘Are you Jeff or Wally?’”

“That he not only remembered sending the clubs, but also remembered our names – that blew my mind.”

George Pasley has met Palmer on a couple of occasions; though, there was nothing quite like their first encounter.

Pasley won aboard a Singapore Airlines flight, on the way to Jakarta, Indonesia. Because of poor weather in Hong Kong, the flight was diverted to Taipei and the passengers were stuck on a tarmac for six hours.

“About three hours into the delay, the senior flight attendant announced to the first class cabin that Mr. Palmer would like to make a statement. He walked into the front cabin and said, ‘Many of you may not know me but I’m a professional golfer. I’ve experienced situations like this before. I’ve learned there is only one solution – martinis!

“He saved the day.”

And made many others unforgettable.

“The fans energize me,” Palmer said in a recent interview. “My fans are the people that I looked to as my inspiration. They made me want to win. When I see people smile, it makes me smile.”

Susan Schuch’s father idolized Palmer. Unfortunately, cancer brought an early end to his life. Right before it did, however, Schuch took her father to a senior event in Sarasota, Fla.

While waiting for Palmer for an autograph after his round, she was struck by his patience and generosity amid an ocean of fans.

“When it was my turn, as Arnie began to sign my ticket stub, Dad said, ‘Watch the man work, Susie.’ Arnie started to smile and then slowly looked up at me and then looked beyond me to engage my dad with a now broad smile.

“For over 20 years that memory has sustained me in times of missing my dad.”

Stories like these, individual as they are, are aplenty. Whether it’s a kind word or a 30-minute conversation; a wink or a smile; a chance to see him hit one tee shot or walk an entire round alongside him, inside the ropes; as Jimmy Carson says, “He just makes you feel human. Like he knows you. Like he’s your friend.

“He’s Arnold Palmer, for goodness sake.”

Joel Grant’s daughter had no idea who Palmer was when she met him in 1995 at a senior tournament near Seattle. She followed Palmer’s group in tow with her mother and father. At one point during the round, one of Palmer’s errant shots landed in their vicinity, “almost flush against a tree,” says Joel.

As Palmer surveyed his predicament – and what a fine mess it was – he noticed Joel’s daughter. “How are you?” Palmer asked, to which Brittany shyly smiled back.

Palmer had to take his medicine on that hole, but ultimately shot 66, just one off his age. Coming down the final fairway, Palmer’s tee shot once again finished near the Grant family.

“Nice to see you again,” Palmer said, with his big Arnie smile, to the little girl. She smiled back, as she did before, but didn’t speak – not because she was in awe of Arnold Palmer, but because that’s what shy 9-year-old girls do around strangers.

“As he walked away,” Joel remembers, “my daughter asked, ‘Who was that nice, nice man?’ I just shook my head and smiled. Who is this man whose charisma as a human, not just a celebrity is off the charts?

“I do not know, but for sure, they broke the mold when they made this man.”

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: Who's got next?

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

The sprawling legacy of the Class of 2011 can be traced to any number of origins, but for some among what is arguably the most prolific class ever, it all began in June 2009.

The 99-player field that descended on Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., for the AJGA’s FootJoy Invitational included Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and so many others, like Michael Kim, who up to that moment had experienced the weight of the ’11 class only from afar.

“It was that year that Justin won the FootJoy Invitational and that got him into [the Wyndham Championship]," Kim recalled. "That was my first invitational and I was like 'these guys are so good’ and I was blown away by what they were shooting. I remember being shocked by how good they were at that time.”

Tom Lovelady, who like former Cal-Berkeley Bear Kim is now on the PGA Tour, remembers that tournament as the moment when he started to realize how special this particular group could be, as well as the genesis of what has become lifetime friendships.

In the third round, Lovelady was paired with Spieth.

“We kind of hit it off and became friends after that," Lovelady recalled. "The final round I got paired with Justin Thomas and we became friends. On the 10th hole I asked [Thomas], ‘Where do you want to go to school?’ He said, ‘Here. Here or Alabama.’ My first reaction was, ‘Don’t go to Alabama.’ He’s like, ‘Why?’ I wanted to go there. I knew the class was strong and they only had so many spots, but that’s where I really wanted to go.”

Both ended up in Tuscaloosa, and both won an NCAA title during their time in college. They also solidified a friendship that endures to this day in South Florida where they live and train together.

While the exploits of Thomas, Spieth and Daniel Berger are well documented, perhaps the most impressive part of the ’11 class is the depth that continues to develop at the highest level.

To many, it’s not a question as to whether the class will have another breakout star, it’s when and who?



There’s a good chance that answer could have been found on the tee sheet for last week’s RSM Classic, a lineup that included Class of ’11 alums Lovelady; Kim; Ollie Schniederjans, a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech; Patrick Rodgers, Stanford's all-time wins leader alongside Tiger Woods; and C.T. Pan, a four-time All-American at the University of Washington.

Lovelady earned his Tour card this year via the Web.com Tour, while Schniederjans and Rodgers are already well on their way to the competitive tipping point of Next Level.

Rodgers, who joined the Tour in 2015, dropped a close decision at the John Deere Classic in July, where he finished a stroke behind winner Bryson DeChambeau; and Schniederjans had a similar near-miss at the Wyndham Championship.

To those who have been conditioned by nearly a decade of play, it’s no surprise that the class has embraced a next-man-up mentality. Nor is it any surprise, at least for those who were forged by such an exceedingly high level of play, that success has seemed to be effortless.

“First guy I remember competing against at a high level was Justin. We were playing tournaments at 10, 11 years old together,” Rodgers said. “He was really, really good at that age and I wasn’t really good and so he was always my benchmark and motivated me to get better.”

That symbiotic relationship hasn’t changed. At every level the group has been challenged, and to a larger degree motivated, by the collective success.

By all accounts, it was Spieth who assumed the role of standard-bearer when he joined the Tour in 2013 and immediately won. For Rodgers, however, the epiphany arrived a year later as he was preparing to play a college event in California and glanced up at a television to see his former rival grinding down the stretch at Augusta National.

“Jordan’s leading the Masters. A couple years before we’d been paired together battling it out at this exact same college event,” he laughed. “I think I even won the tournament. It was just crazy for me to see someone who is such a peer, someone I was so familiar with up there on the biggest stage.”

It was a common theme for many among the Class of ’11 as Spieth, Thomas and others emerged, and succeeded, on a world stage. If familiarity can breed contempt, in this case it created a collective confidence.

Success on Tour has traditionally come slowly for new pros, the commonly held belief being that it took younger players time to evolve into Tour professionals. That’s no longer the case, the byproduct of better coaching, training and tournaments for juniors and top-level amateurs.

But for the Class of ’11, that learning curve was accelerated by the economies of scale. The quality and quantity of competition for the class has turned out to be a fundamental tenet to the group’s success.

“Since the mindset of the class has been win, win, win, you don’t know anything other than that, it’s never been just be good enough,” Lovelady said. “You don’t think about being top 125 [on the FedExCup points list], you think about being as high as you can instead of just trying to make the cut, or just keep your card. It’s all you’ve known since you were 14, 15 years old.”

It’s a unique kind of competitive Darwinism that has allowed the class to separate itself from others, an ever-present reality that continues to drive the group.

“It was constantly in my head motivating me,” Rodgers said. “Then you see Jordan turn pro and have immediate success and Justin turn pro and have immediate success. It’s kind of the fuel that drives me. What makes it special is these guys have always motivated me, maybe even more so than someone like Tiger [Woods].”

The domino effect seems obvious, inevitable even, with the only unknown who will be next?

“That’s a good question; I’d like for it to be myself,” Lovelady said. “But it’s hard to say it’s going to be him, it’s going to be him when it could be him. There are just so many guys.”