If there ever were a 'Mr. Golf,' this is it. He plays strictly because he loves it. Oh, how he loves it. He's 71 and he's still playing three tournaments a year on the regular tour - the Bob Hope, Bay Hill, the Masters - and five or six on the Senior Tour. At an age when everyone else has put it to bed, he continues to get out and knock it around.
He does it because he wants to. No other person who hit the little white ball for a living has such a love for driving it down the fairway and hitting it up on the green.
Arnold did it last week at the Hope, and in the interview room somebody mentioned that not since Snead 22 years ago had anybody shot their age. 'I wondered why in the hell you wanted me in here. I couldn't figure it out,' he snorted in mock indignation.
'But you know, it's fun,' he said. 'That's why I'm still playing. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the feeling I get when I'm out there.
'You know, you get nervous, and want to play well. Of course, I'm not fortunate enough to do that as much as I would like. But I don't give up, and I don't think that I will give up. As long as I can compete and be a part of the game, I'm going to try to be. If I'm making some contributions to it, that's my goal.'
Yeah, he's making contributions. He's making lots of them, still, at age 71. He realizes he has to be careful about where he plays on the regular tour now. Even though it would be immensely popular if he were to tee it up more often on the regular tour - and he could readily get a sponsor's exemption for any one of them - he has to be mindful that he is taking up a slot which could be spent on a young player. The only tournament he does this at is the Bob Hope. Bay Hill and the Masters are invitationals and not locked in to a certain number of entrants.
Rounds such as this one, when he shot 71 at age 71, make him consider ever so briefly changing the schedule. 'I'd have to play a lot more good rounds,' he explains, and you have to appreciate his sincerity because you know how badly he wants to be out there.
'But once you feel like you're making some progress, that could change my opinion and maybe have me play a few more events. But as I say, it's going to have to be more consistent that it has been. You know, I started with 81, and then I shot 79, and then I shot 75, and then I shot 71.
'If I could have shot 71 and gone down the same way, I would be sure to play a few more events.'
Of course, the Hope is relatively easy. I say 'relatively,' because there is no way most of us could shoot 71 on those courses, and I don't mean when we are 71. Most of us couldn't shoot 71 if we just played 15 holes and toted them up. But the winner, Joe Durant, shot 36-under for five days of play. The point is, if Arnold was going to do it, this is the place. The pins were relatively accessible for Arnie and partner Troy Aikman, the better to get the amateurs around. The courses were in immaculate condition - 'Goodness, you could eat your lunch on anything out there,' said Palmer. And they were fairly short.
But even when it's a day for the 81s to come creeping in, he still has a wonderful time. He has grudgingly made his peace with it. He can look in the mirror and realize, difficult as it is, that it is going to happen some days out here.
And when it does, he can roll with the punch. He knows he isn't here to win. He's here to play fairly decent golf and to have a good time. An 81 isn't any fun, even at age 71 when most of the world would die for such a score, but it's so much fun just being Arnold Palmer on days like that.
'Rather than aggravate myself with the game, I talked to all my friends,' he said.
'All his friends,' incidentally, is anybody who has ever played golf. His list of friends isn't too exclusive. Eighteen tees, 18 flags and three other Joes to keep him company is all Mr. Golf needs to have a nice day.
Read more of what Arnie had to say after shooting his age!