ORLANDO, Fla. – The list of those who can bring a PGA Tour media center to a stand-still on a Wednesday is a short one.
Arnold Palmer is not only on the list, but near the top.
Palmer strolled into the interview room at his Bay Hill Club & Lodge for what has become an annual State of the King. He answered questions for more than 30 minutes, with topics ranging from current course conditions at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational to recollections of events six decades prior.
Palmer, as always, did not disappoint.
He took command while announcing anticipated design changes, with Bay Hill closing this summer to install new greens on all 18 holes of the championship course:
“I may change (No.) 16. That’s one hole that’s really the weak spot of the golf course right now. As you all know, it’s a very weak par 5 and I will lengthen it a little and maybe change the green a little.”
He lamented a recent fall at his home, but remained committed to making his annual appearance on the first tee at the Masters next month alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player:
“I have a dislocated shoulder, and maybe this week or next week I’m going to start hitting the ball. I have every intention of hitting the first drive at Augusta.”
He shared details of a discussion with Tiger Woods, who called Friday to tell Palmer that he would not be playing in this week’s event:
“He simply said that he just couldn’t present himself ready to play when he isn’t, and he’s going to work on his game and get through it. I told him how much we would miss him, and how sorry we were that he wasn’t coming because his record at this golf course is the best record in golf on any single situation such as his.”
He began to tear up when asked to describe his favorite trait about grandson Sam Saunders, who lost in a playoff at the Puerto Rico Open two weeks ago:
“He’s finally maturing into a professional golfer and he will continue to mature and as time goes on, he will do better. I have every confidence in him to play the Tour, and play it well, and thus far he has indicated that that’s going to work.”
He recalled with vivid detail his first time in Orlando, a trip in 1948 with his Wake Forest teammates that nearly led to him transferring to Rollins College, located just up the road from Bay Hill:
“We all voted to stay at Rollins because we were playing the girls’ golf team, and for the next two days we played the girls’ golf team. That was a hell of a lot more fun than playing the men’s golf team.”
He offered sage advice on the game in general, building upon words of wisdom he once learned from his father Deacon:
“If you are really serious about playing golf and playing good golf, stick to the basic fundamentals. Sure, there’s going to be a little change here and a change there, but you don’t want to make them. You want to stick to the things that you started with, and you learned, and you know how to apply them.”
Throughout the interview, Palmer showed that his wit is as sharp as ever. At one point, the media center microphone was producing more static than words of a question being asked, an issue that Palmer quickly addressed:
“Put that mic away and talk to me.”
And when his most recent phone call with Woods was described as an hour long, Palmer set the record straight, using language you can get away with when your name is on the tournament signage:
“Well first of all, whoever told you it was an hour is full of sh--.”
And while his shoulder remains on the mend, Palmer closed this latest session by once again flashing his trademark grin, offering a self-assessment at 85 years young.
“Well … I’ll be old one of these days.”
Long live the King.