Hanging with Arnold Palmer during API week

By Mercer BaggsMarch 25, 2014, 7:30 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s 9:59. And 43 seconds. Arnold Palmer has a 10 a.m. ET news conference Wednesday of his eponymous tournament and he’s not a minute late.

Punctuality is important to Mr. Palmer, particularly this week. He’s hosting the Arnold Palmer Invitational and his obligations are many. Media, fans, sponsors – everyone wants a piece of his time.

His daily schedule is finely detailed and impossibly full. Each day begins with breakfast, usually corporate, and ends with a dinner or party. Under sun, moon and stars, the 84-year-old is constantly in motion this week at Bay Hill Club & Lodge.

It’s 65 degrees this Wednesday morning. The sun is intensifying but can’t quite penetrate the oak trees shading the makeshift media center tents. Palmer is chauffeured by tournament director Scott Wellington to the interview room, where modern topics are tinged with nostalgia.

The crowd exceeds 80. There’s Kit, his wife, and Amy Saunders, his daughter. His right-hand men are present, as are major media outlets and local news affiliates. And one chucklehead wearing Pabst Blue Ribbon pants. People are using smart phones and iPads to record the moment.

Palmer’s sharp. He recalls specific incidents from 60 years ago, encounters with President Eisenhower and how he built muscles by using a push lawnmower with no engine. It’s great stuff, a wonderful reprieve from the modern presser.

After 31 minutes, it’s over. But it’s not over.

A couple of journalists stop Mr. Palmer to chat. Photographers rapidly click buttons, turning motion into still images.

Palmer walks onto the tennis courts that house media grounds this week, his black loafers scratching against the clay, and is guided to secondary interview No. 1. The interviewer, recording for radio, asks a couple too many questions, but Palmer is a pro. He knows how to end a conversation. After the last question, Palmer smiles, pats him on the shoulder and says, “Thank you for your time.”

Secondary interview No. 2 takes place with a national outlet, No. 3 with a local news station. No. 4 is with a Bloomberg reporter about the city of Augusta, Ga. No. 5 is with a radio host regarding a personal encounter. He poses for two photographs and accepts praise from a man whose kid was born prematurely at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.

The final interview is with Peter Jacobsen. He asks Palmer to look into the camera and say, “Hey, fellas, what about me?” Palmer does it. Twice. He then asks, “Why am I doing this?” Palmer’s confused, and rightfully so. Jacobsen never fully explains that this is a bit for Jake’s Takes regarding the top players in the world. Palmer trusts the source and performs to perfection.

It’s 10:56 and Palmer is done, again, with the media. He hops back into his cart and heads to the range to watch grandson Sam Saunders practice.


Arnold Palmer and Sam Saunders


Saunders is in his grandfather’s tournament on a sponsor’s exemption for the fifth time. He’s now a legit pro, competing on the Web.com Tour and trying to earn his PGA Tour card. He’s third from the end on the far, right side of the range.

Palmer watches intently as Sam hits irons and driver with a noticeable fade. The elder makes a few motions with his hands and lower body to the younger. Palmer stares at the ball through impact. He walks over, grabs Sam firmly by his right arm and whispers something into his ear.

“Sam, you got it, baby!” he says as he distances himself. Sam goes back to hitting his driver. There is much less bend in his trajectory.

“He was just helping me with what we’ve been working on,” Saunders later says. And what is that? “A family trade secret,” he responds with a genetic grin. “I spent some time with him recently in Pennsylvania. I was struggling, didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing. I’m far from that now. He’s been very encouraging. I get what he was saying. I get it now.

“It’s a matter of maturity. Experience. Understanding more about my swing and what it takes to be a professional golfer. I love working with him and he loves working with me.”

Sam has learned more from his grandfather than just golf. He’s learned people skills. He looks you in the eye when he talks. He’s gracious. Shakes your hand when the conversation is over. Pats you on the shoulder.

Arnold Palmer and Ace SaundersPalmer isn’t just a supportive grandfather; he’s a great-grandfather, in the literal sense. He holds Sam’s 3-month-old son, Ace, while on the range. He also signs an autograph and poses for a picture.

Chad Campbell, who won this event in 2004, stops by to talk. He takes his hat off out of respect. Mr. Palmer is big on respect and tradition. A sign in front of the Bay Hill clubhouse restaurant reads “Gentlemen, No Hats in The Clubhouse, Please.” It is not a request.

As Palmer and Campbell chat, the couple who wanted a photograph returns. The lady, without hesitation or semblance of courtesy, interrupts the two and requests a second snapshot. “I didn’t hold the button down long enough,” she says. Palmer’s not sure what she’s talking about but he obliges, because he’s Arnie.

ON THE COURSE WITH PALMER

It’s 2:07 Thursday afternoon and Arnold Palmer sits in a cart on the left side of the 10th green, waiting for Sam to hit his approach shot into his first green of the first round, which he soon does, 25 feet left of the pin. Palmer gives a thumbs-up to the lone patron in proximity.

There are lots of thumbs-ups on this pristine, 82-degree day. Palmer is accompanied by his wife and three officers from the Orange County sheriff’s department. One rides on the back of the golf cart, two more follow on bikes. Palmer drives, at times with one hand on the wheel and another on Kit’s shoulder, like he’s starring in “American Graffiti.”

The officers are there to help ensure Palmer can enjoy watching his grandson unimpeded. They deny all autograph seekers, large and small. It must be done. Palmer wouldn’t get a moment’s peace without their presence. Pictures are still taken from a distance and the sight of a legend seems to suffice many.

There are lots of familiar faces on this back-nine trek. Palmer stops to chat with Tour officials and old friends. He jokes around with his assigned patrol. And everyone – fans, marshals, volunteers – gets a thumbs-up.

Palmer, wearing gray slacks and a short-sleeved, buttoned-up shirt with a silhouette of his swing embroidered on the left chest, is crisscrossing holes. He stops in a section between the par-4 11th fairway and par-3 14th tee. The group of Stuart Appleby, Boo Weekley and Stewart Cink is playing the latter. Appleby hits last. As soon as he makes contact, with only the sound of the club on which to go, Palmer says, “That wasn’t good.” He was right. Appleby's ball landed in the front-left bunker, 81 feet from the hole.


Arnold Palmer


The crew continues to forge ahead and eventually settles adjacent the 13th green. During the respite, I engage Mr. Palmer on his grandson and what the two worked on late last year. “Oh, just working on the parts of his game he needs to improve (i.e., family trade secrets). Certainly, we worked on improving his confidence. That’s a very important part of the process,” Palmer says. “He’s very close to putting it altogether and getting where he needs to be. He just needs to see a few putts go in.”

On cue, Sam makes a 13-footer for birdie, his first of the day.

During our brief exchange, I asked Mr. Palmer to speak on his favorite part of being a tournament host. “Oh, I love every part of it,” he says. “The purpose. The goals. The benefit to the hospitals. The golf. The fans. Everything about this week is special.”

The hospitals he references are the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the aforementioned Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. They are the chief charitable beneficiaries of this event.

I’ve been at Golf Channel since 1996. That’s not a lot of time in Dan Jenkins years, but it represents 46 percent of my life. After all those years I finally had Mr. Palmer in a semi-personal setting. I didn’t ask for an autograph or declare myself a loyal employee. I thanked him.

I thanked him for his hospitals. I told him of my daughters being born 10 weeks prematurely and spending five weeks in the Winnie Palmer NICU. I told him of how they are almost 6 years old now and healthy as can be.

He gave me two big thumbs-up and with that Arnie smile proudly said, “That’s what it’s all about.”

AN AUDIENCE WITH ARNIE

It’s 9:23 Friday morning. Arnold Palmer, fresh off a breakfast with folks from MasterCard, the tournament’s presenting sponsor, steps into his office and has a special guest waiting for him.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning arrived a few minutes before Palmer and said hello to his wife, Kit. “We’ve met before,” she says. “Yes, at the White House,” Manning replies.

The sporting icons, bound by Hall of Fame careers and corporate sponsorship, shake hands and head into Palmer’s office proper. It’s a private conversation, but the doors aren’t closed. They discuss golf, football and family for 20 minutes.

“It’s always great to visit with Mr. Palmer. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him on a couple of occasions,” Manning says.

“He’s had an impact on a lot of athletes. He was a true sportsman. Very competitive on the course, but impactful with fans. He took time with them. Fans could get to close to him. He took time to sign autographs. My dad learned a lot from him and passed that on to (brother) Eli and myself.”

Palmer’s office is located on the second floor of the Bay Hill clubhouse, just above the players’ locker room. It houses the individual offices of Arnold Palmer Enterprises and the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament staff, about 12 people total.

It’s modest, understated. Some Palmer memorabilia and a small refrigerator that stores Arnold Palmer iced tea, bottled water and cheese spread. No major trophies or green jackets. It’s not a shrine, rather a place of business.

Manning emerges from behind unclosed doors, signs a few artifacts, thanks everyone for their hospitality and hops into his courtesy car. He, too, is a busy man.

Arnold PalmerIt’s 12:01 Friday afternoon. Palmer arrives with his legion at the MasterCard chalet off the 17th green. He’s there for some autographs and photos with fortunate card holders.

He makes his way, with a little assistance, up the stairs and sits down at a table in the hospitality area. The chosen few are in line, waiting for a few indelible seconds with Arnold Palmer.

Everyone gets a signed hat. They also get a smile. A handshake. A look in the eyes that offers acknowledgement and ensures a personal experience. Some of the women go in for a hug.

“This is going to be our Christmas card,” one couple tells Palmer. “You have no idea how much this means to my husband,” one woman offers.

Thirty-plus photo ops with individuals and couples take place. Most have personal memorabilia – flags, tournament guides, Golf Digests with Palmer and Kate Upton on the cover – they want him to sign, which, of course, he obliges, because he’s Arnie.

“He is so down to earth,” says Bill Davis of South Bend, Ind., who has a sister who lives at Bay Hill. “I’ve met him before, but it’s always a treat. He is so gentlemanly and considerate. Some of the newer guys out here aren’t bad, but there’s nobody like him.”

Jay Potter of Toledo, Ohio came down for the tournament. He had never before met Palmer.

“Awesome experience,” Potter says. “And he’ll personalize the autograph. Some of these guys, they won’t do that. And it’s neat. You can actually read his signature. You gotta respect the way he does things.”

After a half-hour, all autographs have been meticulously signed, every hand has been shook and a room full of people has their Arnie story.

“You know,” says Mrs. Palmer, “he handles it all so well. He just keeps on going. That’s the key. He never stops.”

Mr. Palmer is escorted down the stairs and into his golf cart. He’s got his wife, a pair of helping hands and three police escorts. He turns right down Bay Hill Blvd. and motors off to the next scheduled appointment. After all, it’s only 12:35.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

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

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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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

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


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.


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


''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.