Palmer said the tour wanted to lop off some of the rough at his Bay Hill Club. Finchem just happened to be on hand to formally announce that the tournament would become known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational starting next year. But the commish was the object of a very pointed stare by Arnie when Palmer talked about having to cut the grass.
Finchem recoiled a bit as Arnold continued to glare at him. Its going to be like that, is it? said Finchem.
I looked at you when I said it, said Palmer.
Then everyone, including Palmer, had a good laugh. But Arnold was only half joking. The height of the rough at his course has forever been a source of consternation to him. If he had his way, the rough would stay forever at 4 inches.
They (the tour staff) have topped it at 3 inches, Palmer said.
What weve done is, weve kind of fooled them a little bit. We let it grow so thick that topping it at 3 inches isnt going to really change that much of the playing characteristics of the rough. If the ball goes down (to the turf), its going to be tough.
Arnold, of course, wants the rough to grow long to make it imperative for players to have to hit fairways. And he really wasnt being rude to the commissioner ' Arnold knows Finchem doesnt usually get overly involved in the individual course setup. But Palmer is, first of all, a traditionalist; and secondly, he reads the news reports like everyone else. He reads where golfers nowadays are hitting drives in excess of 300, 310 yards. And Arnold knows that, like all the courses on tour, Bay Hill is susceptible to an old-fashioned slaughter if players dont have to worry about where their drives land.
Palmer is proud of the fact that the members at his club dont necessarily catch any breaks during the other 51 weeks of the year. The tour staff doesnt have to narrow the fairways for the tournament ' they already are pinched in sufficiently that Joe Average gets no breaks from their width. And Palmer says Bay Hills rough is 4 inches the remainder of the year. If thats the gospel truth - and when have you ever had reason to doubt Ol Arnie? - then they have eased up a little on these tour pros.
Arnold has some rather renowned players who agree with him. Ernie Els, for one, said he believes the better players ' the pros - ought to play the tougher conditions.
We play the PGA TOUR, and the tour should be different from what you guys play on Saturday, Sunday mornings, Ernie reasoned.
I think our brand, the PGA TOUR, is on a different level (from those who play recreationally). We get the most benefit out of technology, and we play the best equipment. I think we should play the best, toughest golf courses possible.
Els used himself as an example of what can happen. Not too long ago he played in a tournament at Royal Melbourne in Australia, on what was once one of the most feared courses in the world. Sadly, its too short now to really strike fear into golfers hearts. Ernie shredded it for a 60.
I was bombing it to the greens, chipping it on and making putts, he said. It was in perfect shape.
That course, played in the same weather conditions in the 50s or 60s, we would have done really well to maybe shoot 65.
The difference in then and now, Els explained, was that then equipment would have forced him to hit 7-iron approaches. But with the equipment Ernie is now using, he was flipping in half-wedges.
Athletes, he was saying, are certainly bigger and stronger than they once were. And with technology, were going to hit the ball longer. Its like any other sport - cars get faster, guys in the NFL get bigger, hit harder. Thats just the way life is.
Arnold realizes that, too, but hes too ornery to just give in. Hes 76, and tournament competition has, sadly, passed him by. But hes not going to just give up and give in to the equipment of today.
Its that greatly enhanced equipment, of course, that has made the game so much more enjoyable for the vast majority of golfers ' and here Im talking about the amateurs. Its these people, Palmer said, who should be allowed to avail themselves of all that clubs and balls and shafts can do for people.
So I have to look at it from the point of view that I love the game, and I dont want to ruin it for the guys who go out and shoot 80 or 85, said Arnold. I want them to be able to enjoy it and I want them to feel they can improve their games just like the professionals can improve theirs.
Its about 1 percent of the golfers in the world that were worried about hitting the ball too far well watch the scores this week, let the rough grow up a little bit, let the greens get a little fast and a little harder ' and see what happens.
Email your thoughts to George White