Turning Back the Clock at Bay Hill

By Mercer BaggsMarch 19, 2003, 5:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- He walks along the Bay Hill grounds to the constant chirping of his name. Parents shift their childrens captive attention away from fluttering butterflies in order to catch a glimpse ' so they can one day say they saw him, even if they dont really remember.
 
He commands attention, without the demand. Autograph hounds sniff him out. They offer their pen, a picture, and a memory. He obliges with a signature and a smile.
 
Hes the man many have come to see. The Man at Bay Hill. And hes not the three-time defending champion.
 
No, this isnt Tiger Woods of which is written. Its Arnold Palmer. The King.
 
For the 50th consecutive year, Palmer will compete in a PGA Tour event as a professional, and he will do so in the tournament he hosts. Appropriately enough, he will also do so with his grandson, 15-year-old current Bay Hill Club champion Sam Saunders, on his bag, and alongside his greatest rival.
 
Jack Nicklaus and Palmer were playing in last weeks Gary Player Invitational when the subject of charity turned to competition.
 
I told Arnold that I really needed to play some more golf before the Masters, Nicklaus said Tuesday, and I really didnt want to travel out to the West Coast just for three days of golf. He said, Well, why dont you come to Bay Hill?
 
Nicklaus was uncertain of the prospect, even though Palmer stated, If you play, Ill play.
 
The 63-year-old had reservations about taking a regular tour players spot in the tournament, but Palmer settled the issue when he got tour officials to agree to add to the field.
 
And here I am, Nicklaus said.
 
This is Jacks first trip to Bay Hill since 1995, when he shot 79 in the first round and withdrew.
 
Tuesday, he shot 1-over 73 in the pro-am ' 13 strokes lower than that of Palmer, who was playing two groups in front. Nicklaus wasnt on site Wednesday, as he had to attend a prior commitment in his native Columbus, Ohio. He will fly back at night, well before his 1:00 PM ET first-round tee time.
 
Unfortunately for many fans, Palmer will not be in that group. He will also go out at 1:00, but on the 10th tee along with Robert Damron and J.P. Hayes.
 
Im sure that Jack and I are sort of indifferent about it, Palmer said of not being paired together. Matter of fact, we didnt really discuss it, but I think it worked out just fine the way it is.
 
This may be the last time the two compete in the same PGA Tour event. When asked if he would play in Jacks tournament, The Memorial, Palmer replied: I doubt that Ill play at Muirfield. I might go there but I dont know that Ill play.
 
He then added with a smile: Jack hasnt invited me yet.
 
Normally, you could see the two tee it up at Augusta National, but last year the powers that be decided not to extend its former life-long invitation to past champions to those older than 65. Palmer doesnt like the change, but it doesnt alter his love affair with the tournament or the venue.
 
I am very, very fond of Augusta. I think that if theres a place that I had to go, it would be Augusta, and Im disappointed in a lot of things that have happened, said Palmer, who didnt want to state his opinion on the clubs gender policy.
 
But if the good Lord is willing, Ill be going to Augusta a lot and will continue to go there. I cant tell you what it means to me.
 
Palmer, who like Nicklaus is a member at Augusta National, added that he had no intention of being a ceremonial starter in the event any time soon, with the passing of Sam Snead and Byron Nelsons decision not to hit the tournaments first shot.
 
Neither Palmer nor Nicklaus desire to be ceremonial. They each cling to the memories fading in the horizon. Memories of 133 combined tour victories and 25 total major championships.
 
But not everything positive is left in the past. Spectators are abundant when either man is on hand. They want a chance to see their heroes, to relive those memories, to maybe even trade a gesture.
 
And Palmer is grateful. Its what drives him to compete at the age of 73. What keeps him going when hes already shot his age by the 16th hole. Its why he says every year that this will be his last, and why every year he continues to return.
 
Im glad Im playing, he said. Im not happy with the way Im playing. Physically, Im not as good as I should be.
 
Hopefully, Ill feel better tomorrow and be able to do the things that I want to do on the golf course.
 
The skin has loosed a little over the years, and the sun has set deep in the crinkles of his rugged exterior. Its the look of a man who has lived life, and lived it well. A man who has played golf with presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George H. Bush. A man who has played horseshoe with George W. A man who has seen Hitler try and conquer the world, and is about to bare witness to yet another war.
 
Palmer said the tournament ' in its 25th year at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, the course that Palmer bought in 1979 ' would continue regardless of incidents outside the Orlando area. He said its what should be done, and part of what helps balance those who are protecting us.
 
I dont think its unpatriotic to have a sporting event going on. I think those people over there that are fighting and away from home look to see what were doing, he said.
 
I think their morale would be lesser if we stopped doing all these things.
 
A year ago, Palmer was playing a practice round at this event with good friend and Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. Times were uncertain then, and even more so now.
 
But Palmer has faith in those who lead. In addition to his Pennsylvania connection with Ridge, hes a family friend of the nations First Family. Being Arnold Palmer affords you friends in high places. But his deepest relationships are formed with Everyman ' blue- or white-collared, male or female, black or white, adult or child. Those who fell in love with the swashbuckling, cigarette-smoking, major-winning cool of cool back then, and those who love the cart-riding, body-aching, 86-shooting grandfather now.
 
People never seem to stop rooting for you, even though they know that things are getting to the point where theres little chance of winning a golf tournament, he said. My motivation is the game itself and the people that Ive been associated with for more than 50 years.
 
The game is so fascinating. Im seeing the same things when Im coming down as I saw coming up on the other end, and thats fascinating to me.
 
Just as he is to those who still watch him play.
 
Related Links
  • Full coverage of the Bay Hill Invitational
  • Getty Images

    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

    Getty Images

    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

    Getty Images

    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

    Getty Images

    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.