It wasnt supposed to be this way. Arnold is the King.
Hes the pioneer of televised golf. Arnold was as charismatic winning major championships as he was squandering them. His smile captured the hearts of his female admirers, his style capture the dreams of his male fans. Who, when buried deep in the woods, didnt fancy themselves as Arnold? A clear path to the fairway, with a sliver of daylight to the green, how many times did we take the Palmer route? And how ugly was that scorecard?
Now, if youve been able join his gallery recently, its a different story. In person, he is truly still the King. The Army is strong. His fans are knowledgeable, loyal, polite and grateful. He often walks near the ropes, joking with spectators, touching them with his gaze and attention. Creating countless stories, Arnie looked at me. Arnie winked at me. Arnie shook my hand.
At times he walks the fairway with frustration and embarrassment etched in his expression, wishing his scores didnt have to be posted. If he only understood how we felt. Its been decades since his scores have meant anything to anyone but him. To see that funky swing, the warm smile, the wave of acknowledgement is worth it to his fans.
I remember my first Masters. I think Couples won. I remember the egg salad sandwiches. I remember my dads name on the trophy with Arnolds and Jacks from 1964. I remember having a clubhouse pass and exploring every room, except the Champions Locker Room. I remember the beauty of the place and the dignity of the fans. I was so overwhelmed by the experience that I only remember two things that happened between the ropes.
I staked out a spot thats still my favorite on the course, beneath the No. 6 tee overlooking the 16th green. Arnold hit his tee shot on 6 and walked down the hill looking into the gallery, which was standing and applauding. Arnold seemed to be greeting everyone individually with a nod or a smile.
I was a few rows deep but his gaze found me. He said Hello, David and kept going down the line. A woman turned and asked, Who are you? I just said, A fan. She replied, Were all fans of Arnie.
So we all are. That same year I watched Arnold birdie 15 and heard the largest roar Id ever heard on a golf course. I didnt care who won, I had seen Arnold make a birdie at Augusta.
Shortly he will return to Augusta National. He hasnt confirmed it yet, but he just has to play. At yhe Masters, the Kings subjects await his return.
Ill be one of them. Ill go find him out on the course and Ill follow like I do at any event in which he plays. Ill listen to spectators adoring him. Ill watch parents point him out to their children. Ill watch people squeeze their way to the ropes hoping for a glimpse or a nod. Its ironic that his personality is lost on the television audience that he played such a large part in creating, yet on-site he still creates the same passion he has for generations.
Time is drawing short for golf fans to share this experience. His playing schedule is shrinking dramatically, and his talk of retirement has a more serious tone than ever before. If you think golf is only about the number on the scorecard, dont waste your time. If you think the game is about friendship, caring, respect, honor and an ageless grace, then long live the King.
Full coverage of the 2002 Masters