Arnie: Awards, honors and new beginnings

By Nick MentaSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

George Washington, Neil Armstrong, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, Frank Sinatra, Rosa Parks and Arnold Palmer.

All of them are recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal, but only one of them has his face plastered on a 22.5 fl. oz. Arizona Beverage Company can.

Is it possible now in 2014, 20 years after his final U.S. Open start, that Arnold Palmer is most widely known not for his golf or philanthropy but for the mass production of a lemonade-iced tea hybrid?

What, if anything, can possibly stand up to convenience-store-beverage supremacy?

His seven majors, 26 amateur titles and 95 total professional wins aside, a consideration of the King’s off-course accomplishments – from the success of his own PGA Tour stop, to the founding of the senior tour, to his award from the United States government, and, yes, to the refrigerated section of your local Wawa and/or 7-11 – seems in order.

Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman

Arnold Palmer with 1983 Bay Hill Classic winner Greg Norman. (Getty)

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While in Orlando for the 1962 Florida Citrus Open, Palmer first visited the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, and after seven years of haggling with the club’s ownership group, he finally purchased it outright in 1969.

“I was really not interested in being one member of a large group … some of their members weren’t too happy about that,” Palmer recalled.

The members may not have liked it, but that purchase has paid serious dividends for the Orlando community. Ten years after Palmer took over and began remaking the club, the PGA Tour moved its Orlando stop to Palmer’s new home track. It was one thing to have his own event, much like his rival Jack Nicklaus had accomplished with the Memorial five years prior, but the then-Bay Hill Citrus Classic gave Palmer the chance to begin his charitable efforts in earnest.

“We talked and [Orlando construction magnate] Frank Hubbard said [to me], ‘You could do something more for this community.’ He said, ‘If you were really interested we would make an Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women,’ and so I agreed to that, and the tournament was the benefactor to the hospital, and that’s how it all started.”

The event now known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational has actually launched two hospitals at the Arnold Palmer Medical Center: the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.

“Every time someone walks through those turnstiles at the tournament, it’s helping a child here in Central Florida,” said John Bozard, president of the medical center, “and so we are grateful for the proceeds from the tournament.”

One would assume those previously put-out Bay Hill members probably came around after a bit.

Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer at the 1984 U.S. Senior Open. (Getty)


Rewind to Palmer's50th birthday, Sept. 10, 1979. Not coincidentally, the Senior PGA Tour, with a minimum age threshold of 50, started the following year.

One of the many brainchildren of then-PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, the senior tour was born from the success of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf event that began in 1978, featuring names like Sam Snead, Roberto De Vicenzo and Julius Boros.

But the real draw of the newly formed senior tour, and the reason it exists more than three decades later as the Champions Tour, wasn’t Boros or De Vicenzo or even Snead.

From Hollis Cavner, executive director of the tour’s 3M Championship: “I don’t think there would be a Champions Tour today if it wasn’t for Arnold.”

From current tour member Bobby Clampett: “If it wasn’t for Arnold Palmer, we would not be out here on the senior tour or Champions Tour competing.”

From writer John Feinstein: “There wouldn’t have been a senior tour without him.”

Palmer himself describes the initial motivation behind the tour as an opportunity for players of a bygone era to still compete and to play for amounts of money that simply weren’t up for grabs when those then-greats were at their peak. Of course, it was Palmer who was drawing that money to the tour.

The senior tour, more than anything, was an opportunity for golf fans to continue to see Palmer in person and on their television sets. Though he won only 10 senior tour titles, including five senior majors, it’s clear he was the driving force of the circuit’s early years, before names like Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino crossed the age barrier.

“He started it,” Clampett said. “He got the ball rolling and sponsors soon found that there was a viable product out here on the Champions Tour. When Arnold Palmer was playing it was big news.”

Big enough news that senior events featuring Palmer rivaled the regular tour’s own television ratings.

Three decades later, weekly purses on the Champions Tour hover around $2 million thanks in part to Palmer’s initial legwork.

“He was accessible. He went to all the functions,” Cavner said. “He did everything he was asked to do. … Every draw party, every cocktail reception he needed to be at, he made fabulous.”

Amazing what some people can get done at a cocktail party.

Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer Half & Half Iced Tea-Lemonade


Speaking of beverages, how does one get their own drink named after them?

“I was mixing iced tea and lemonade in my kitchen since as long as I can remember,” Palmer once told Interview magazine. “It wasn't until sometime in the early 1960s that it became associated with me publicly.  I was playing golf in Palm Springs and after a round I asked the waitress in a restaurant to bring me a glass of iced tea and lemonade.  A lady sitting nearby heard me and asked the waitress to bring her a ‘Palmer,’ too.”

The drink unofficially bore Palmer’s name for decades after that, but it wasn’t until 2001 that a man named Mark Dowey figured out how to market it. Sitting with two friends in a clubhouse, Dowey, already in the dairy business, drew up some initial plans for a business proposal on a napkin, which he would later present to Palmer’s management team at IMG.

Once Dowey got Palmer’s blessing, he found a willing partner in the Arizona Beverage Company. As of 2010, the Palmer brand represented 10 percent of Arizona’s business, or $100 million, and 40 percent of its overall growth.

There are plenty of people who have no relationship whatsoever with golf. And yet they still see Arnold Palmer’s face almost every day

Arnold Palmer receives the Congressional Gold Medal


And so while Palmer’s legacy extends well beyond golf – both in his charitable and business endeavors – his most amazing accomplishment won’t be found in Latrobe or Orlando or even the supermarket, but in Washington, D.C.

The United States has been from its inception a representative democracy, but the King sure has spent a lot of time in the nation’s capital. Palmer has been awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, the country’s two highest civilian honors.

He is one of only six athletes – along with Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis and Byron Nelson  to ever receive the latter distinction.

Voting on whether or not to give Palmer the medal in 2012, the Senate was unanimous while the House passed the motion, 422-1. (The "1" was Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who has always voted against spending taxpayer money to give anyone the medal. And for the record, a referendum to award Nicklaus the gold medal made it through the House in May, with a 371-10 margin.)

And so perhaps this sums up Palmer's most amazing achievement:

“[I am] particularly proud of anything that the House and the Senate agree on,” Palmer said upon receiving the medal.

Speaking about Palmer, House majority leader John Boehner was moved to tears (shocking, right?). After joking about government gridlock, Palmer added these words:

“It’s humbling to realize that just six athletes have been [given] this gold medal award. I like to think and truly believe that golf and golfers promote some sort of human values that symbolize such characteristics as honesty, hard work, dedication, responsibility, respect for the other guy, playing by the rules. Kind of something we do in the game of golf.

“I am very humbled. Thank you very much.”

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.