Palmer's passing stirs vivid memories of the King

By Brandel ChambleeDecember 19, 2016, 1:05 pm

A century passes and depending on one’s age, maybe 10 years are so indelibly marked that the mere utterance of the number brings to mind an event. 1961: Roger Maris hits 61 home runs. 1974: Richard Nixon resigns. 1945: World War II ends. You know those connections instantly. 2016 was that kind of year. The King died.

Once in a great while the future can be foreseen. When Tiger won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, no one doubted that the history books were about to get dented up. But mostly, clairvoyance is impossible. Nobody could’ve predicted Arnold Palmer’s popularity.

Sure he was handsome and muscular, but so was Frank Stranahan. Arnold won often enough, eight times each in 1960 and 1962, but Byron Nelson won 18 tournaments, including those 11 in a row, in 1945. Sam Snead won 10 times in 1950 and even Paul Runyan won nine times in 1933. Arnold had a great come-from-behind win at the U.S. Open in 1960 when he started the final round seven shots back, shot 65 and won. But just the year before, Bob Rosburg had won the PGA Championship from six back with 18 to play, and in 1950 Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open after having been near death from a 1949 head-on collision with a bus.

It wasn’t any one thing that made Arnold Palmer the King, it was everything. He was handsome and muscular. He won often, and in dramatic ways that would bring the crowd to a whirling mass of astonishment. He lost, too, and his knees would buckle and his body would contort in some kabuki pose of self-chastisement. It was as if he were the home team of every city in America and they had just lost the big game and an entire country's worth of fans threw their arms in the air and screamed at the TV over the inequity.

Sports may just be about entertainment, but in an ideal way - OK, maybe in a romantic way - we want it to convey values, too. We don’t need our sports stars to be worthy of our admiration - think of Kobe Bryant or Ty Cobb - but it would be nice if they were. There was an integrity to the way Arnold Palmer played golf and a humility to the way he interacted with sports fans and members of the media. He was unfailingly polite and generous with his time, time and time again.

Great golfers have a kinesthetic sense, where they are able to match themselves to the landscape, simultaneously matching themselves to the weather conditions and to the topography that their ball must traverse in flight and upon landing. Arnold Palmer had this, but in the exact same way he could sense the appropriate way to talk to an individual and to handle himself in any situation.

Such was his gift of charisma that his popularity wasn’t just specific to the knowledgable sports fan. Sports nuts and those who didn’t follow sports knew him equally. Nor was his appeal dependent upon one’s demographic or nationality. He was universally loved by the man who worked with his hands, by scientists, politicians and generals, artists and the biggest stars in Hollywood. 

In the summer of 1981 I went to Great Britain to play golf. One day, while playing at Carnoustie, I was paired with an artist by the name of Harold Riley. Some 21 years before that summer, Harold had been sent to St. Andrews to sketch some pictures of an American who had won the 1960 U.S. Open and the Masters. There was Grand Slam talk for the first time since Bobby Jones, 1930. Arnold Palmer had never played The Open and Harold Riley had never seen the man he was to paint.

Exiting the train at St. Andrews, Harold went for a walk across the links, sketching the landscape and people as they crisscrossed the fairways. One man drew his attention for the way he moved. For the way he drew on that Salem cigarette as if it were his muse. For the way he slashed at the ball and cocked his head and the way he strode from hole to hole through the peloton of patrons. It turned out to be Arnold Palmer.

As the week went by Harold Riley painted and sketched the man who would be King many times over. In one scene Palmer was leaning on his putter as he waited for his turn to play with that Salem cigarette, giving off a thin line of smoke, hanging from his mouth. In another he was somewhere in the finish of his swing, with turf and dirt and sinew flying everywhere.

Over the years as I got to know Harold his popularity grew (he painted presidents and popes)  and he made a gift of many paintings to me. One of them is a pencil sketch of Palmer at St. Andrews in 1960, where he finished second to Kel Nagle. Palmer has his legs crossed, is leaning on his putter and wearing a cardigan sweater, the last button left fashionably undone. He is staring off at something he needed to figure out, caught perfectly in the vacuum of competition.

In 1983, I made a pilgrimage to Los Angeles to play Riviera. There I ran into a group of men who were laughing and wisecracking and playing fast off the 18th tee. One of them was the head of Columbia pictures, another was one of the men who produced "All in the Family." Bud Yorkin was his name, as I recall. Another, who had a big Rolex watch on his wrist as he played, was a man by the name of Rudy Durand. After the round, I met them for drinks in the club. Somewhere in the course of that post-round banter, Rudy said, “Friendship is serious business,” and the look in his eyes when those words left his mouth, well, it made you want to be his friend. As the years went by, decades even, he became one of my best friends. Rudy was also best friends with one of the biggest movie stars of all time, Jack Nicholson.

I played a few rounds of golf at Riviera with Rudy and Jack and I found out, among the many things that Nicholson loved, he loved art, he loved golf ... and he loved Arnold Palmer. So a few years ago, when “The Colonel” as Rudy calls Jack, (after his iconic, “You can't handle the truth!!!” role as Colonel Jessup) in "A Few Good Men") turned 75 and Rudy and I were talking about what one gives to someone who has every material possession, every kind of professional admiration, for such a monumental birthday.

When I got back to my home in Scottsdale I boxed up the Harold Riley picture of Arnold Palmer and sent it to Rudy to give to Jack for his 75th birthday. A few days later, Rudy called and after the usual greeting of lovable insults, he told me Jack had said that the gift made him smile and made him cry.

Arnold Palmer could do that. He did it to us all.

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McIlroy on winning the Masters: 'It'll happen'

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 4:16 pm

Nearly two weeks after letting a shot at a green jacket slip through his grasp, Rory McIlroy remains confident that he'll still someday find a way to capture what for him has become golf's most elusive prize.

McIlroy had a spot alongside Patrick Reed in the final pairing at the Masters, and he insisted that all the pressure was on his counterpart who was seeking his first career major title. But from his first wobbly tee shot, it was clear that McIlroy was feeling plenty of heat himself as he looked to round out the final leg of the career Grand Slam on a course where he has come up barely short a number of times in recent years.

McIlroy started the day three shots behind Reed, but he never challenged once the pair hit the second nine as Reed beat Rickie Fowler by a shot while McIlroy fell into a tie for fifth, six shots off the pace.

"I got onto that first tee, and I was quite nervous. Even though I was three behind, I still felt like there was a little bit of pressure there for some reason," McIlroy told CNN's Shane O'Donoghue. "I just couldn't get into my rhythm like I could the first three days."

Given time to reflect, McIlroy has adopted a positive outlook on his week in Augusta: another chance to contend on a major stage, another sign that his game is, for the most part, where he wants it to be heading into a busy summer stretch.

For McIlroy, the disappointment was not in failing to win major No. 5, it was in his inability to make Reed work for it during the early stages of their round together as McIlroy failed to mount much of a challenge after missing a 4-foot eagle putt on the second hole that would have given him a share of the lead.

"I was just disappointed that again I didn't put any pressure on the leader. I guess that was my thing," McIlroy said. "If I had just put a little pressure on, it might have been a different outcome."

Instead, McIlroy left with a respectable yet unsatisfying result from the season's first major for the fifth year in a row. Left to wait another 11 months before his next crack at a green jacket, his belief is unwavering that he'll one day join Reed among the tournament's decorated list of champions.

"Look, it'll happen. I truly believe it'll happen," McIlroy said. "I play that golf course well enough. I've five top-10s in a row, I've given myself a chance. It didn't quite work out. But just, the more I keep putting myself in those positions, sooner or later it's going to happen for me."

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."