State of the Game: Golf through Arnie's eyes

By Arnold PalmerDecember 29, 2013, 3:20 pm

This is the season of nostalgia. As one year of memories gets packed away, another filled with opportunity beckons. Before we jump headlong into 2014, I’d like to take a few minutes and remember some of the good people we lost in 2013.

My formative experience with losing a loved one came in 1950. I was a senior at Wake Forest when my roommate, Bud Worsham, was killed in an automobile accident. Bud was my best friend; in fact, he was the reason I had attended Wake Forest in the first place. What made his loss even harder to handle was the fact that I might very well have been in that car that night had I not opted to skip a Homecoming dance and instead attend a movie.

I bring that up because there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Bud Worsham. There’s not a facet of my life that hasn’t been improved for knowing him, albeit so briefly. I’ve lost many loved ones over the years: my father in 1976, my mother in 1979 and of course, my wife Winnie in 1999. But Bud’s death taught me the lesson – wrenching as it was – that death is a part of life, and that the memories are worth the pain. I celebrate that lesson in remembering these departed friends.


Miller Barber: If all you knew about Miller Barber was his golf swing, you’d say he had no shot. He had the ultimate chicken-wing right arm and held the club virtually perpendicular to the ground at the top of his backswing. But what people overlooked with Miller – as they do with most good players with unorthodox swings – was that he had a great release through the ball. And while he may not have been the most athletic looking player, Miller was very strong and very powerful.

He also enjoyed a pretty colorful nightlife, though one that was opaque to the rest of us. In those seemingly simpler days, groups of us would often get together and frequent the same bars or restaurants, but Miller never told us where he was going that night or where he’d been the night before. As a result, our PGA Tour colleague Jim Ferree dubbed Barber “The Mysterious Mr. X.” Over time the moniker was reduced simply to X.  Up until the last time I saw him, I still called him X, not Miller. He had a great sense of humor and took to the nickname. But he also remained the man of mystery and a very close friend. 


Bill Campbell: Bill was not only one of the great gentlemen of the game, he was one of the great gentlemen, period. Sandy Tatum, the high priest of American amateur golf, once said that “in the whole history of golf there have been just two ultimate quintessential golfers: Bill Campbell and Bobby Jones.”

Like Jones, even though he lived a full life off the course, Bill regularly competed against the best players in the world. Although he and I were never paired together in a major championship, we did compete in 1965 when Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and I took on three outstanding amateurs in Bill, Deane Beman and Dale Morey. I wasn’t playing my best, and as we were walking down the fairway I was trying to keep a positive outlook. I said to Bill, “My father always said to me, ‘He can who thinks he can.’ Bill, do you believe you can force yourself to do things?”

Bill said, “Well, Arnold, I can’t argue with that. You’re pretty strong evidence of it.”

Perhaps the story that best illustrates Bill’s exalted place in the game came from Jack Nicklaus. Years ago Jack had been debating the finer points of amateur status with Frank Hannigan, the former executive director of the USGA. Jack said to Frank, “Name one top amateur who doesn’t take anything from the manufacturers.’

“Bill Campbell,” replied Hannigan. Jack paused for a moment. “Okay. You can have Campbell,” he said. “Name another one.”


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Frank Stranahan: Stranny, who passed away in June, is one of the most overlooked talents in the history of the game. This guy was sensational. He pretty much won everything there was to win as an amateur, including three North and Souths, three Western Ams, two Canadian Ams and two British Ams. The only important amateur trophy that eluded him was the U.S. Amateur, in which he finished runner-up in 1950.

Given that he came from a wealthy family (his father founded Champion spark plugs), many of us expected Frank to remain a lifelong amateur, but he turned pro and won six times on the PGA Tour before leaving competitive golf in the mid-1960s to focus on business. “Muss,” as we also called him because of his fastidious appearance, had the complete package: a terrific game, dazzling good looks and lots of money. People credit Gary Player with bringing fitness to the game, but Stranny, who used to travel with barbells in his suitcase, was a devoted fitness buff and health nut. He ran dozens of marathons, and competed in bodybuilding and weightlifting well into his 70s.

One last note about Frank. I am often given credit for “salvaging” the British Open in the early 1960s. We can argue whether the game’s most historic championship really was in danger of sinking, but it is safe to say that after World War II, many American competitors simply found it easy and more profitable to compete here in the United States. Frank never quit on the Open. He continued to compete there on a regular basis, and finished second in 1947 and 1953. His devotion to the Open Championship is what inspired me to go over in 1960. I won the following year, and I’ve been credited ever since with “saving” the Open, but it was Frank who paved the way.


Pat Summerall: His football colleague John Madden put it best when he said of the millions of sports fans who embraced Pat Summerall’s mellow brand of broadcasting, “They invited a gentleman into their homes.”

Whether it was football or golf, Pat became as much a part of the fabric of American sports as the leather on the arms of our easy chairs. I thought it was a beautiful gesture when Augusta National Golf Club offered him membership upon his retirement from television. Though out of the spotlight, the final years of Pat’s life, when he reacquainted himself with the most important thing in anyone’s life, family, were some of the happiest he ever enjoyed.


Ken Venturi: Ken became well known to casual golf fans when he joined the television booth in the late 1960s, but he was a force in the game as early as the late 1940s. A student of Byron Nelson and frequent playing partner of Ben Hogan, Ken was a formidable talent whose career was both sparked and unraveled by physical ailments. He first took up golf as a 13-year-old in response to his teacher’s diagnosis of Ken as a “an incurable stammerer.” He took up the loneliest sport he knew.

His ironman performance in winning the 1964 U.S. Open while battling severe dehydration remains the hallmark by which on-course toughness is measured. But ultimately it was another physical challenge, carpal tunnel syndrome, which forced his early retirement in the late 1960s and encouraged his transition to the broadcast booth.

Ken and I will likely forever be linked by a rules decision invoked while playing in the final round of the 1958 Masters. On the 12th hole, I hit a 6-iron off the tee and my ball plugged into its own pitch mark on the back fringe of the green. The ground was wet and soft, and a local rule providing relief from an embedded ball was in effect all week. I was leading by a shot, and just to be safe I called over the rules official, the late Arthur Lacey. I proposed that I could lift, clean and drop my ball without penalty to a spot as close as possible to the original position and no nearer the hole (a stance with which Ken agreed), but Lacey disagreed, saying I had to play the embedded ball. I knew I was right, but I wasn't in much of a position to argue. Finally, I said, “I'm going to play two balls and appeal to the tournament committee.” I knew I had that option under Rule 3-3a.

Lacey objected, saying, “No sir, you cannot do that either.” I told him, “Well, that's exactly what I'm doing.” I played the original ball as it lay for a 5 and then announced that I was about to play a second ball. I dropped to a clean lie and made par. Ken objected, saying that I was required to announce to him that I was going to play two balls before I played the original. The officials on site at the Masters reviewed the case, agreed with me, and I won my first Masters by a shot.

That incident affected our relationship. We both wrote about it in subsequent books, each of us insisting that we were right. I think the whole episode says more about the confusion built into the Rules of Golf than it does about me or Ken. I regret that the incident affected our relationship. Ken was a remarkable human being, and a warm and true friend to thousands of people in and out of the game.

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DJ may keep cross-handed grip for Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 4:29 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As he’s proven in the past Dustin Johnson isn’t averse to switching things up when it comes to his putting, but this was extreme even for him.

Johnson switched to a cross-handed grip on the sixth hole during Saturday’s third round at the Tour Championship and continued to use the same grip through the final round.

It was the first time he’d putted cross-handed in competition and the first time he switched his grip mid-round.


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“I did it a few times on the putting green. Sometimes I do it on the putting green just to get my setup a little bit better because it just levels out my shoulders,” said Johnson, who closed his week at East Lake with a 67 and finished alone in third place. “I was putting well. I hit some bad putts for the first five holes, so after I hit a really bad putt for eagle on 6, the next one I tried it, I made it, so I kept it going.”

Johnson, who moved back into the top spot in the World Golf Ranking thanks to his third-place finish, was encouraged by his putting on the weekend but he was vague when asked if he planned to putt cross-handed this week at the Ryder Cup.

“We're going to stick with it for now. We'll try it,” he said.

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For the U.S. team, advice from the gridiron

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 4:01 pm

Seve Ballesteros might have been a magician with a sand wedge, but he was truly hell on wheels.

As Europe’s captain at the 1997 Ryder Cup in his native Spain, Ballesteros led his team with a heavy foot, racing across the emerald landscape in a souped-up Club Car festooned with blue flags.

“All week long it seemed like there were four Seves or five Seves,” recalls Lee Janzen, who went 2-1-0 for the United States. “He was everywhere. I’d turn around and look up and he’d be following our group, and then he was gone, and then he was back with our group again. I found out years later that there were tunnels at the golf course. I asked [‘97 U.S. captain] Tom Kite and he said he knew about the tunnels, too, but it didn’t seem like he knew about ALL the tunnels.”

The most infamous golf cart in the history of the Ryder Cup is, mercifully, far from Paris, but somehow the skid marks from Valderrama remain.

Europe’s 14 ½-to-13 ½ win over the United States 25 years ago began a streak that has lasted over two decades, a stretch of European dominance and long American flights home.

While the United States has made large strides in teamwork and bonding, the work of its 2014 task force must be judged as incomplete until the Americans find a way in Europe.

It hasn’t happened since Bryson DeChambeau was 10 days old.

“I’m getting tired of saying I was on the last team to win on the road,” says Jim Gallagher Jr., who defeated Ballesteros in singles as a Ryder Cup rookie in 1993. “That was the horse-and-buggy era.”

The American road futility has not gone unnoticed. It has transcended the golf world to the point that figures throughout the sports world have watched as five straight American teams have returned from Europe empty-handed - from Valderrama, the Belfry, the K Club, Celtic Manor and Gleneagles.

One year, Seve shrinks the course, tightening the doglegs and taking driver out of the hands of Tiger and Phil (1997). Or Paul McGinley makes the big putt (2002). Or Darren Clarke proves an inspiration (2006). Or there’s rainsuitgate, golf's version of a wardrobe malfunction (2010). Or Jamie Donaldson starts knocking down flagsticks (2014).

It’s always been something - the vagaries of travel, body clocks out of rhythm, fewer friendly faces in the crowd and missed putts.

So how do you win on the road?

“Whatever you’ve done to be successful in a Ryder Cup at home you try to do the same thing on the road, as far as preparation, meals, meetings, practice, timing, as much as you can make it a home situation,” says Dan Reeves, who participated in nine combined Super Bowls as an NFL running back and coach. “Stay in as nice a place as you can. Do you have a pre-game meal? One thing you’ll talk about with your team is that they’ll be in Paris for several days.”

Reeves was the Atlanta Falcons' head coach for Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami when one of his top defensive players was arrested for soliciting an undercover policewoman the night before the game.

The Falcons went on to lose to Reeves’ former team - the Denver Broncos - 34-19 in what has become one of the most well-known cautionary tales in sports.

“There are a lot of distractions on the road,” Reeves says. “Stay focused on what the job is, have things arranged to where they can do things as a group instead of going out and getting into any kind of trouble.”

R.C. Slocum, the former head coach of Texas A&M, also took his road preparation seriously, once going as far as calling Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for advice on a road game against the high-powered University of Hawaii.

“I called the military and said, ‘Tell me about moving troops from one time zone to another,’” Slocum says. “They gave me a study. The typical response for a long airplane ride is for adults to drink alcohol and coffee and for [college] kids to have carbonated drinks. If you have a few alcoholic beverages at 40,000 feet, you are going to have sleep issues and hydration issues. We put a quart bottle of water in every kid’s seat. ‘Drink this whole bottle before we get there.’”

Slocum says the study also told him to get his players on the time zone of the arrival city as soon as possible.

“The best thing to do when you land,” Slocum says, “is to go get some exercise.”

The coach put together a robust itinerary for his team that varied from a Polynesian dinner show to a solemn trip to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

After calling several coaches of teams who’d lost road games in Hawaii, Slocum packed extra sunscreen after being told of visiting athletes striking out to Hawaii’s beaches and ending up too sunburnt to comfortably wear shoulder pads.

“Those are things you can control,” Slocum says.

His Aggies won, 28-13.

What advice would he give to U.S. captain Jim Furyk and his 12 players as they try to unlock their own road riddle?

“This is a business trip at the highest level,” Slocum says. “They are so privileged to be on the team and represent the United States. They owe it to each other to be at their best. Anything a guy does against that is cheating his teammates and his country and all the people back home rooting for him. To play on the biggest stage is an opportunity that only rolls around a few times.”

That stage has only grown bigger through the years, as evidenced by the 50,000 fans that attended Hazeltine each day.

Some organizers have predicted 60,000 to 65,000 daily at Le Golf National.

And most won’t be donning red, white and blue.

“It’s a bit like in football in that you want to keep them quiet, but the louder they scream and the better you play, that’s what’s really energizing,” says Joe Theismann, who won Super Bowl XVII as the Washington Redskins' quarterback. “When you reach an elite status as an athlete, the ability to focus and block things out is paramount. I played in front of 100,000 people and I could still hear a pin drop.”

Theismann still remembers leading Washington to a 1983 road win against the Detroit Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome.

“Loudest stadium I’ve ever played in,” he says. “It was built down into the ground so the sound would circle around you and sit on top of you. Coming out of that game, you felt like you accomplished something.”

At Ryder Cups in Europe, that sound has been chants of “Ole, ole, ole, ole,” a soundtrack on an endless loop.

“You want to thrive in that chaos,” says former Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. “That’s the true test of mental strength.”

Hawk imagined himself standing in the middle of the United States team room on the eve of the Ryder Cup.

“That’s a hell of a group to be addressing, a lot of major championships,” Hawk says. “I’d say ‘Look at your left and right. This is us against them, and we are in hostile territory. You’ve got each other, your wives, your family, and there is nobody else. Let’s go out here and lean on your brother. You go into Paris and beat up on Europe, you all will be talking about it for the next 20, 30, 40 years.”

Much better than talking about Seve’s old golf cart.

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U.S. team celebrates wins by Woods, Stricker

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 3:50 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The U.S. Ryder Cup team was waiting to catch a charter flight to Paris late Sunday in Atlanta when the man everyone was waiting for arrived.

“We had a major victory for the team and we had a whole group of guys waiting in the team room, and then a giant roar when Steve Stricker walked in the room after his victory last night,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk laughed.

Stricker, one of Furyk’s vice captains, did win on Sunday, but it was on the PGA Champions Tour at the Sanford International. The bigger roar, of course, was reserved for Tiger Woods, who won for the first time in five years at the Tour Championship.


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“Obviously Tiger played so well at the Tour Championship and to grab ahold of the golf tournament early and fend everyone off, I think was a good buzz in the team room,” Furyk said. “It’s nice to have those two guys play so well, and you know, start us off pretty well this week.”

Woods’ victory at East Lake included a final-round pairing with Rory McIlroy, who the American beat by three strokes, and set an early tone for the Ryder Cup. In fact, European captain Thomas Bjorn was even asked if Woods should be “feared” this week.

“We don't fear anyone because we've played against them so many times before individually but we respect our opponents and know what we are up against,” Bjorn said.

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U.S. Ryder Cup team arrives in Paris

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 3:27 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The U.S. Ryder Cup team landed in Paris just before 1 p.m. (local time) on Monday and most players headed to the hotel to rest following a long week at the Tour Championship.

“I’m not going to be at the golf course tomorrow,” Justin Thomas said on Sunday following his final round at East Lake.

U.S. captain Jim Furyk said he encouraged his players to take a day to rest and recover with a busy week looming. Half of Furyk’s team have never played Le Golf National, site of this week’s matches, and the next three days promise to be a crash course in learning the nuances of the layout.


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“These next three days are very key for us and very important in practice to get to know this golf course, to understand as best we can the ins and outs,” Furyk said.

Thomas played the French Open on the Ryder Cup course in July and Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau made a scouting trip to Le Golf National prior to The Open.

“I was always a guy who broke down golf courses in a major trying to learn, like at a major championship, trying to learn a golf course in 36 holes and be very prepared for that round on Thursday,” Furyk said. “That's what we're going to have to do, and the European side is going to know the golf course a lot better.”