Memories of a larger-than-life figure

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2016, 5:30 pm

Editor's note: Rex Hoggard visited Arnold Palmer in Latrobe, Pa., in September 2015.

ATLANTA – Of the thousands of trophies, photographs and keepsakes that cover the walls of Arnold Palmer’s office in Latrobe, Pa., it was a cryptic letter tucked into a corner that stood out.

Donald “Doc” Giffin, Palmer’s spokesman, confidant and friend of nearly 50 years, gazes at the missive from behind coke-bottle glasses. “This is really something,” he says.

Dear Arnie:

Enclosed is payment for my bet – and never was there one more reluctantly paid.

Over the course of a career that included seven major championship victories, 62 PGA Tour titles and enough winks and knowing smiles to delight an army, there must have been more bets paid to the King than even the IRS could track.

Why would this particular wager, which includes a dog-eared and sun-faded $10, rate a spot on the wall in Arnie’s office?

A wedge shot from the first green at Latrobe Country Club, where his father, Deke, taught him the game, Arnie’s office is exactly what one would expect from a man who single-handedly lifted the game from niche curiosity to a sport of genuine appeal.

There are photos of his signature victories at the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open, and models of the private jets that became as much a part of his appeal as that slashing swing and knowing smile.

Also attached is a picture cut from the Philadelphia Inquirer. It indicates dejection; please remember that a couple of accidents will not be important a year from now. You’ll win a lot more tournaments and forget all the woe caused by bridges, rocks and complaints about a tree.

And of course there is Arnie’s famous workshop, stacked full with every imaginable golf club, putter and gadget. Boxes of leather straps sit in a corner. He likes a certain kind of grip on his clubs ... every club, so along with an assortment of loft and lie machines, a Stimpmeter and other items of golf nerd interest is a machine to re-grip golf clubs. So many golf clubs.

There’s a Pittsburgh Pirates jersey in another corner complete with Palmer’s name, a Steelers helmet and a U.S. Ryder Cup bag - he went 2-0 as a captain.

The room is a testament to a life well lived and the man who lived it. Disheveled, like Palmer as he stalked up Augusta National’s 18th hole in 1958 to claim his first green jacket, and gritty, like that ’60 U.S. Open triumph at Cherry Hills when he held off some young gun named Jack Nicklaus.

Woe? What woe, Arnie’s life is a golden era movie and he’s a larger-than-life leading man.

He paved the way for every generation that followed, transcending golf, transcending sport. He made golf cool.

Love to Winnie and keep hitting them!

All the best. As ever,


The letter, dated Aug. 14, 1965, has no return address, no further explanation.

Giffin’s smile widens. There’s a story to tell and he loves telling stories.

The bet, Giffin explains, was that Arnie would win the 1965 PGA Championship, the lone leg of the career Grand Slam that eluded the King in his career.

The ’65 PGA was moved to Laurel Valley, which is a short drive from Latrobe, and after coming close so many times at his missing major, this one was Arnie’s.

A home game in his prime.

So Arnie took the bet, his friend adamant this would be his time. Crazy, right? Arnie betting against himself, but there it is, on the wall with the cash to prove it.

The week started poorly for Arnie at that PGA with a first-round 72 and things only got worse. He hit a 60-foot fir tree that had been planted adjacent to the third hole after the practice rounds to keep players from trying to cut a corner.

There was a penalty shot when one of Arnie’s tee shots caromed off a bridge, and the hometown hero would finish tied for 33rd, a PGA bridesmaid again.

Next to the letter is a Sports Illustrated cover from September 1969. The headline reads “Farewell to an Era: Arnold Palmer turns 40.” Its place on the wall seems ironic, like the letter, considering Arnie would go on to win eight more PGA Tour titles after it was published.

Giffin reminds Arnie of those eight victories.

“I started late, you have to think about that. I was 25 when I really started playing professional golf, so I was fortunate that I was still able to win and be a participant in the game,” he says. “I still play to win, but I’m too old now.”

Not winning the PGA, even the PGA at Laurel Valley, seems silly now after so many years, so many accomplishments. Arnie has hospitals named after him, a Tour event that still draws the game’s best players, an army that still marches for him. A legacy that will never be duplicated.

Fast-forward a year, to the Tour Championship and Rory McIlroy is asked what Arnie means to him. His eyes begin to glaze over and he pauses, the burden of emotion more than an attempt to collect his thoughts causing the delay.

“Arnie put the game on the map. I don’t think any other sports person in any other sport did for their profession what Arnie did for the game,” says McIlory, who pulled off an Arnie-esque victory on Sunday at East Lake. “He left a legacy that I’m not sure anyone else in sport has left.”

So, who was D.D.E.? Giffin lets the question linger for a few moments. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president and a lifelong friend of Arnie’s.

Arnie died on Sunday. He was 87.

His appeal was universal, his triumphs, his humility, his passion contagious. You always rooted for Arnie whether you were a president, a FedEx Cup champion or a golf writer, because he was the best part of the game.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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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."