It turned out that he had played an afternoon round the day before and went into the locker room for a quick shower and a cold libation. It was there that he met ' completely by chance, for the first time ever ' four gentlemen from the British Isles.
The men could hardly believe their fortune. First of all, they had been fortunate enough to play Bay Hill. And secondly, they chanced afterwards to meet one of the most famous men in golf history.
But the real surprise came next. Palmer, being the affable gent that he is, joined them for a favorite beverage from his home state of Pennsylvania. One turned into two, two became three, three became five, and before anyone knew it, they had spent a very long evening in the confines of the locker room. He felt no pain that evening, but the next morning is another story entirely.
Palmer plays in the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness today, and he is just as much the guy who just walked in the door as he was five years ago. Humbly aware of his impact upon the worlds golfing populace, he is nonetheless Mr. Everyman, rubbing elbows with the Irishmen, the Americans, the Asians, maybe even a sherpa or two ' virtually anyone who has the time to sit, enjoy a cold one, and chat for awhile.
He is, without a doubt, the enduring face of the sport, the most loved man who is still playing the game today. He continues to play, partially, for that one reason ' he enjoys the people, and they adore him. His galleries today are as large for him as they are for anyone.
The people out here yesterday were unbelievable, said Palmer. I saw stuff in the gallery as far as photos and reminiscing to so many years ago. And it wasnt just one or two. It was a whole group of the gallery.
Am I surprised? I suppose Im surprised to some degree that they lived that long but Im not overly surprised, simply because its part of my work ethic and part of the thing I do every day. And I hear from these people. You know, its amazing. As I say, there are a lot of them. And I am very proud of that.
The other reason he plays is because that, somewhere in the far reaches of his mind, he can remember still how it felt to be competitive. And he believes that lightning just might strike again and, just like 40 years ago, the drives will be long and straight and the putts will fall. And there he will be, addressing the crowd in the victory celebration Sunday evening. The only way that is an impossibility is if he doesnt play.
Lately, though, that glimmer of hope is become just a faraway twinkle. At 73, that hope is just about completely extinguished.
I havent said that, but you can probably read between the lines and know whats going on, he said. Im not playing very much. Im playing the major tournaments right now, and that will go away pretty soon.
But at the moment, Im still hitting it a little bit. As long as I can hit it and walk the 18 holes, I will probably try it. It may mean that this is the last year. It may mean next year is the last year. But, you know, Im not going every week and beating the tour ' thats done.
That will be it for the immediate future, and the immediate future is tomorrow. Im going to enjoy that.
At that moment, he was interrupted by a siren passing by on a Toledo street. Hey, he joked, tell them Im not dead yet.
One thing that has encouraged Palmer is the recent advances in technology. He firmly believes that the golf balls go too far, but as long as they are legal, he realizes he would be foolish not to use them. And he uses a driver that has a modern-day metal head with all the advancements that club-makers can muster. That combination has almost negated whatever Mother Nature has done to tired old bones.
Well, you know, its pretty amazing, he began another yarn. I was thinking about that yesterday as I played and to what I could remember about playing here in 57 versus 2003.
And my drives were almost in a lot of cases in the same position that they were then. Now, you think about that. Thats 40 years, a little over 40 years ago.
The equipment, the ball, have increased to the point that I can almost do the same things that I was doing then - and the shots that I was hitting then. And hell, there wasnt a lot of difference.
Thats all of the technical advances that we have made, because my body sure as hell hasnt kept up with it.
Mr. A. Palmer has lived a life full of wonderful memories, be it personal, on the golf course, or designing those golf courses. The design work has kept him deep into the game, even in his advancing years.
And its a nice way, he said immediately. Its something that I kind of thought about years ago when I was slowing down my playing and getting off the tour, that if I wanted to go and do some golf courses along the way and play in a golf tournament, I had the privilege of doing that.
And thank goodness I can knock on wood and say its happening that way, and I enjoy it. It makes my life fun right now.