Palmer tourney a time for celebration, not sorrow

By Ryan LavnerMarch 15, 2017, 6:33 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – This is not a week for mourning.

Oh, no, not at all.

Just as Arnold Palmer’s service last fall was a celebration of his outsized life, his eponymous tournament has become a way for players, the PGA Tour and the local community here to give thanks to the beloved American icon who died last September at age 87.

“I definitely don’t think this tournament has taken on a somber atmosphere at all,” Rory McIlroy said. “It should be a celebration of what has been a great life.”

The celebration began last Saturday, with the unveiling of the 13-foot, 1,392-pound bronze statue – similar to the one at Palmer’s alma mater, Wake Forest – behind the first tee. There is no velvet rope around the sculpture, no security guard out front. That’s not Arnie. No, just like the approachable megastar, fans are encouraged to get up close to the statue. To touch it. To take selfies with it.

Each player has a special way to honor Arnie.

Many have walked into Palmer’s office, virtually untouched last fall, to sign a commemorative flag. Rickie Fowler will wear custom shoes with Palmer’s image on the sides and signature across the strap. Morgan Hoffmann, who was inspired by Palmer to earn his private pilot’s license, has three custom wedges this week: a 52-degree with “Iced Tea & Lemonade,” Palmer’s favorite drink, engraved on the back of the club; a 58-degree etched with “The King”; and a 62-degree stamped with Palmer’s Citation plane and wing number. Many golf balls will feature Palmer’s signature umbrella, and that logo will be stitched into bags and hats and shirts.

Said Sam Saunders, Palmer’s grandson: “I hope the players and fans remember and can still feel my grandfather’s presence here this week. I know I do. I think all of us do.”

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Saunders was tasked with opening the Wednesday meeting with the press, which was Palmer’s annual “State of the King” address to riff on a variety of topics. Flanked by Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, Saunders, the third-year Tour player, joked, “I don’t quite know why I’m here …” but he filled in admirably (as he did at the service last fall) as the family frontman.

Never has it been more of a team effort.

Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell was summoned for a board meeting last December to share what made this tournament great from a player’s perspective and how, in the future, it can be even better. Those discussions led McDowell, who lives in nearby Lake Nona, to be named part of the tournament host committee, along with Sorenstam, Curtis Strange, Peter Jacobson and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. As the only active player-host, McDowell views himself as a tournament ambassador. “If there was ever a week to educate players on how to carry themselves, this would be an ideal opportunity,” he said.

Added Sorenstam: “We’re not here to fill the shoes of Mr. Palmer, but rather just continue to carry the torch that he has started and that he has been carrying for a long time.” 

The Tour elevated the API last March, when they bumped the purse from $6.3 million to $8.7 million and offered a three-year exemption to the winner, not the usual two. Monahan described the foundation of the tournament as “incredibly solid,” despite some of the handwringing from players and media types about the perceived poor turnout this year. Here at Bay Hill are four of the top five players in the world, and 14 of the top 25. 

“It is a selfless thing to come and play in this event this week and guys are really making an effort to make it about them. They’re here from their heart,” Saunders said. “They’re playing because they know that my grandfather was able to give them a career, give them an opportunity to play golf for a living.”

It was Saunders, 29, who led players onto the range Wednesday morning for the opening ceremony.

Tournament officials planned for 25 players but instead needed two waves to accommodate the roughly 75 that showed up. A video montage appeared on the electronic leaderboard, with reflections from some of the game’s legends, and a U.S. Coast Guard chopper made a flyover.

“This moment right here,” Saunders said, “would mean the world to my grandfather. Let’s hit this one hard.”

And so, one by one, they lashed at their tee shots into a cold, stiff breeze. It was golf’s version of the 21-gun salute. Defending champion Jason Day, playing in the pro-am, stopped by as he made the turn, borrowing another player’s club to pipe a drive, then signed a ball and dumped it into the bucket that will be auctioned off for charity.

Other remembrances this week are more subtle.

Palmer’s golf bag is positioned on the far-right corner of the range, his favorite spot to dig it out of the dirt.

His cart (with two sets of clubs on the back, as usual) is stationed behind the 16th tee, his favorite spot to watch golf.

And some of the trophies and medals from his office are available for viewing throughout the course.

“It’s not just about this year, although clearly this is a very important tribute year,” said tournament director Marci Doyle. “We are here to make it bigger and better every year, because that was Mr. Palmer’s mantra.”

What will happen Sunday remains to be seen. For four decades, Palmer greeted players as they walked off the 18th green. He complimented them on their fine play. He thanked them for taking the time to play his event. Members of the tournament host committee likely will fill that role now, but it won’t – it can’t – engender the same emotions.

“We’re not trying to replace him,” Doyle said.

But they are trying to remember him, and so the winners here no longer will receive a blue blazer – they will instead don a red cardigan sweater, Palmer’s favorite choice of outerwear.

Yes, from the tournament’s start to its finish, there are little touches of Arnie everywhere.

“He would probably wish us all to be celebrating rather than commiserating this week,” McDowell said, “and I think it will be a celebration.”

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

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Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

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Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

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Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.