I Still Love Golf


ORLANDO, Fla. ' A photo op, a quick exchange, a snapshot in time. Past, present and future crisscrossed in real time on a warm March morning on this former Orange grove, a convergence of the absolute best golf has to offer sailing through common waters.
The best Wednesday on Tour after the madness of the opening round of the WGC-Match Play and, arguably, the Par 3 Contest at the Masters, was even better this year thanks to a confluence of generations.
Arnold Palmer held his traditional court on the eve of his tournament, a cant-miss event for those who carry notebooks for a living or anyone with even a passing interest in the timelessness of golf. In these troubled economic times, Charles Schwab may not pull a crowd like he used to, but Palmers scrums still demand full attention because of his honesty and his history.
Seven decades immersed in the game give The King license to address, well, whatever he wants, and on Wednesday he was at his thoughtful best.
Palmers endearing style should give all 120 Tour players gathered for his annual soiree reason to pause. A day earlier, Rocco Mediate said it probably makes Palmer nauseous that the Tour is coaching younger members on how to treat pro-am and corporate partners. In Palmers day, schmoozing 101 was part and parcel of the professional package. You dont build an army hidden behind competitive blinders and stoic wraparound sun glasses.
When asked about Mediates comments, Palmer strayed down a slightly more diplomatic path, but his message remained vividly on point.
I would say that they need to understand more about what the Tour is all about, how it got to be where it is and my advice would be to take a good long look and then maybe realize that it didnt just happen, Palmer said. It would pay for the young people to take a look at that and maybe realize a little more about how valuable what they have is.
As the golf world braces for economic reality and handwringing reaches new heights, Palmer also took a moment to put the financial downtown into some much-needed historical perspective.
The world doesnt stop, it keeps going, Palmer said. I was born in the depression, I was raised in the depression and its going to go on. The economy is bad, sure. But we talk too much about it.
Palmer is the grandfather we all wish we had ' stocked full of more wisdom and experience than the Library of Congress with a delivery that makes even the harshest truth somehow palatable.
Its a shame that few of the players gathered at Bay Hill took Palmers lessons to heart, but maybe its more important that at least two of the most important competitors on property took time to listen.
Before Palmer addressed the media, he met with Japanese wunderkind Ryo Ishikawa. The Bashful Prince has been dubbed, perhaps prematurely, the next best thing. Comparisons to Tiger Woods and Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have rained down like practice golf balls at Vijay Singhs range, and it is a telling sign of the times that Palmer and Woods have become the voice of reason.
You dont want to miss those years, because obviously hes not going to go to college, hes not going to experience life, Woods offered when asked about Ishikawa. Now hes in basically the fishbowl, and a lot of people are going to be tugging at him, and I hope he can enjoy being a teen.
Lets hope Ishikawa has a translator that can keep up with Woods, who, despite his considerable on-course success has taken some time to become comfortable in his own skin both on and off the golf course.
Woods won 14 major championships before fate called an intermission last June and it would have been easy to see his competitive edge eating at him during his extended break. Instead, Woods seems to have emerged from his hiatus better, if not at the business of winning golf tournaments and penning legacies than at least at living.
When I first came out here it was all golf. I didnt have the balance in my life at the time that I do now, Woods said. Im still going to make mistakes, but I think that understanding responsibilities, understanding a life changes, and its changed for the better.
Woods will never be confused for Palmer in his prime, although the world No. 1 does seem to have softened in recent years as his family and his legacy has grown. The man Palmer calls Ta-gre engages the masses with his will and his talent, whereas Palmers cache seemed to be a combination of tenacity and everyman moxie.
Late last year one could almost hear an echo of Palmer in Woods words when he spoke about life after golf. His knee surgery had forced Woods to acknowledge his own professional immortality, never an easy epiphany particularly for the best of a generation, perhaps all time.
When my best is not good enough, I'm not going to be out here competing. I certainly understand that more so now than ever before, Woods said last December.
On Wednesday, with old, new and everything in between in attendance, Palmer seemed to consider his competitive sunset when he was asked about the state of his game. Rocked back in his chair, distanced from the microphone for a moment, Palmers eyes narrowed and a playful smile inched across his face.
Well, I really know what its like to have a fun game, because it sure as hell doesnt have anything to do with playing the game of golf, Palmer said. I play here in the shootout and most of these guys . . . they all beat me. And I hate it. But I still love golf.
For a brief moment, golfs past, present and future all seemed connected by a single, simple theme.
Related Links:
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