Arnie at 86: Still giving back

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LATROBE, Pa. – Just down Legends Lane about a 5-iron from the golf course where he learned to play the game like a super hero, Arnold Palmer eases into a leather chair in his office.

Technically "office" doesn’t really work for a man who has spent the better part of a century playing a game that is better because he was around, but that’s what he calls the cozy complex the includes a museum-like entry and his legendary workshop.

The famed workshop is an almost mythical place for most golfers that includes thousands of golf clubs and all the trappings for proper tinkering, from a lie and loft gauge to a blowtorch and a random Williams–Sonoma bag filled with grips.

At 86 years young, Palmer continues to look for answers to golf’s endless questions and he still appears at ease in his unique work environment.

Although he doesn’t move like he once did and his voice cracks from time to time, he still fills a room with his distinct presence that transcends his decades of relevance.

On Monday, Palmer – who turned 86 last Thursday – was back on the clock doing what he does best these days – raise money for charity, and not just any charity but the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Fla.

“I like to enlighten people with what we have done with the hospital,” said Palmer, the host of this week’s Latrobe Classic. “I’m very grateful for the efforts I have seen people put forward.”


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Palmer was talking about the 120 or so competitors playing the Latrobe Classic, a two-day event that began on Sunday with golf at Bay Hill Club & Lodge followed by a chartered JetBlue flight from central Florida to this corner of Pennsylvania for a round at Latrobe Country Club, where Palmer grew up and learned the game.

Those in attendance at Monday’s event likely were thinking the same thing about the tireless King.

Palmer met the field as they exited the chartered flight on Monday morning in Latrobe and sent the day’s first group off, a group that included his grandson, PGA Tour player Sam Saunders.

“Are you hitting the first shot?” Palmer asked Saunders, who was recovering from a head injury that kept him in intensive care for two nights last month.

When Saunders smiled and nodded, Palmer didn’t miss a chance to take a good-natured jab. “I’ll move [the golf cart which was parked on the first tee box],” he smiled.

Although his focus on this day was on the charity work he and his Champions for Arnold’s Kids foundation is doing, the living legend didn’t disappoint when asked about a wide range of golf topics during a break in his hosting duties.

After his breakthrough year in the majors, Palmer was asked to assess Jordan Spieth’s season, which included a run at the single-year Grand Slam and two major victories.

“I hope he continues,” Palmer said. “I hate to make predictions because you never know. You have to work hard and I hope he does, but he has a long way to go.”

As a member of modern golf’s Big 3, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Palmer was also asked his thoughts on the emergence of a new version of a power triumvirate in the game that includes Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.

“There is more than a Big 3,” he said. “As there was with the Big 3, it’s much more. It’s more than just three people, it’s more than 20 people. You have to have the help of everyone.”

He was also asked what advice, if any, he would give to the game’s up-and-coming stars: “Generosity and work. Always be generous and appreciate what you have. It has to work, it will work,” he said.

But most of all Palmer kept coming back to his charity work and why, at 86, he continues to show up at an office that is akin to a living history of his legendary career.

It’s why he hosts an event like the Latrobe Classic, which is in its third year and has raised more than $1 million for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children last year.

“It’s such a unique experience, to get to come here and play at Latrobe. It’s not like any other pro-am I’ve ever been involved with,” said Saunders, who was playing the event for the first time a day after tying for fourth place at the Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne, Ind., on the Web.com Tour.

For Palmer, it’s not his 62 Tour titles or seven major championships or the dozens of letters that dot the walls of his office from former presidents that he counts as his proudest moments.

“I think of the charities and the results that I’ve seen, that’s very gratifying,” he offered with his signature smile.

It’s why at 86 the legend continues to go into the office on Legends Lane each day.