Arnie The Ambassador of Golf

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The King sat at the microphone, ready to chat about whatever was on the minds of the assorted media folks. One thing that was settled immediately was the issue of Ken Venturi and his insistence that Arnold Palmer broke the rules when he played a second ball at No. 12 in the 1958 Masters.
 
Next question! Palmer said when the issue was broached in a question. Another gentleman persisted with the same question, momentarily raising the hackles on Father Arnie. I dont really know a thing about it, said Arnold. And Im not really too interested. Thats my comment.
 
He doesnt dignify the anecdote with a retort. A stickler for the rules, he obviously was stunned when Venturi brought up the assertion in a book. Palmer had heard the objections raised from Venturi before, but now the incident is more than 40 years old. Palmers recollection is one way, Venturis another. The worst thing Arnold could do, Arnold has obviously decided, is get into a mud-slinging match about it. So there it lay, and if you expected him to mount a defense, you expected wrong.
 
The issue of The King is something else again. Palmer himself doesnt like the term, certainly he has never in his career used the term to apply to himself.
 
You know, Im not crazy about that nickname that they put on me ' The King, said Palmer when he was preparing for a biography feature presented a few years back by The Golf Channel.
 
I dont feel like the The King. I feel like maybe the ambassador for the game of golf. And I would like that. No one is The King of golf, and no one WILL be. The game is bigger than any individual, and it doesnt matter if is Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus or Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan or Sam Snead or Tiger Woods.
 
Palmer was addressing the media gathering before his Bay Hill Invitational this week. Palmer is an owner of the Bay Hill course, having purchased it way back in 1969. That was the year he moved to Central Florida from his year-round home in Latrobe, Pa. He still has a home in Latrobe, as well as the Palm Springs, Cal., area. But Orlando and Bay Hill was the site he personally chose after an exhaustive look at the state of Florida early in his career.
 
I came here in 65 and played in a Chamber of Commerce fund-raiser, Arnold said. I loved the golf course After the exhibition, I asked if the golf course was for sale. And they said, No, it isnt.
 
Palmer then said that if Bay Hill ever were for sale, he wanted to buy it. Oh, thats a different story, said the owners. Lets talk, they said ' and Palmer wound up owning the course in 1969.
 
And why did I come here? Arnold asked rhetorically. I love freshwater. The lakes here are pristine, nice boating, good fishing and very quiet.
 
That was, of course, before the Disney conglomerate moved into the Orlando area. And that was actually before there was a Bay Hill tournament. But there was a tour tournament in Orlando at another course ' in fact, Palmer had finished in a second-place tie in that event in 1967 when Julius Boros was the winner. Anybody still remember the Florida Citrus Open Invitational?
 
Palmer actually won the Florida Citrus in 71. And it would continue to be held at the other track ' Rio Pinar ' until Palmer made a few strategic improvements to Bay Hill and the event was moved to his course in 1979.
 
Twenty-six years later, the course ' and the tournament ' stands on the threshold of history. Tiger Woods is trying to win Bay Hill for the fifth consecutive time ' a mark that has never been achieved. And to think it would come at the course of ' well, The Ambassador.
 
Arnold, now 74, speaks glowingly of Woods - who has moved to Orlando himself.
 
At this point, given the same energy that he has used to do what he has done thus far ' its hard to say how many golf tournaments hell win, said Palmer.
 
Who knows, maybe someday Tiger will wind up owning a golf course just as Palmer has done. Maybe someday he will fly past Palmers 62 victories. But he will have to go some to match the appeal that Palmer has had with the game ' and the fans ' of golf. Arnold may not be The King, but he certainly is The Idol. He will always be idolized by those who love this crazy game.
 
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